When blood is suddenly streaming out of your nostrils, it can be hard not to panic—but if you know how to stop a nosebleed, the situation becomes a lot less stressful. Even if you aren’t a “person who gets nosebleeds,” having this first aid skill in your back pocket can be helpful if one surprises you (or someone nearby) someday.
About 60% of people experience at least one nosebleed in their life—so, yeah, they’re pretty common! And as off-putting as they might be in the moment, the vast majority aren’t serious: Only 10% of all nosebleeds, which are clinically known as epistaxis, are severe enough to require medical treatment.1 So, given that you’re going to be handling most of them on your own, what can you do to stop a nosebleed fast? Here’s everything you need to know if one makes an inconvenient appearance and threatens to ruin your day (or your shirt).
Not all nosebleeds are created equal—there are two types, and one is way more serious than the other.
A nosebleed happens when the small blood vessels that line the inside of your nose break. There are two types: anterior and posterior. You probably won’t be thinking about the kind of nosebleed you have when the blood is flowing, but knowing the difference is important because one can be treated at home, and the other requires medical attention.
Anterior nosebleeds occur when blood vessels break in the front part of your nose. Because there are so many blood vessels there, you might lose a lot of blood—which can feel and look scarier than it really is. Anterior nosebleeds are the most common type, usually involve one nostril, and can often be treated at home in just a few minutes—phew!
A posterior nosebleed happens when larger blood vessels, deeper in the back part of your nose, break.1 This situation is generally more serious than an anterior nosebleed because the blood can travel to your throat and even down into your stomach, potentially leading to nausea. If you’re losing large amounts of blood and quickly soaking through multiple tissues, unable to stop the bleeding yourself, bleeding from both nostrils, or are swallowing or coughing up blood,1 you could have a posterior nosebleed, and you should go to the emergency room.
What are some common causes of nosebleeds?
Nosebleeds can happen for lots of reasons, and some people deal with them way more often than others do.
Inna A. Husain, MD, an otolaryngologist and medical director of laryngology at Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana, tells SELF that this comes down to anatomy in some cases: People with deviated septums, in which the cartilage between both nostrils is crooked, may get more frequent nosebleeds. If you have a blood clotting disorder, like hemophilia or von Willebrand disease, you also might be more likely to have them. Beyond these risk factors, here are some of the most common causes:
Dry air: Low moisture and humidity are the most common causes of nosebleeds. Dry, hot air can parch the nasal membranes (a.k.a. the soft tissue inside your nostrils), making them more susceptible to cracking and bleeding. Dr. Husain says she sees lots of people with nosebleeds in chillier seasons when the humidity tends to be lower.
Getting injured (or picking your nose): Some nosebleeds occur when a person has physical trauma to the face, like if they’re hit with a soccer ball or get in a car accident. Nosebleeds caused by injuries are common among children—they can even happen from picking your nose too aggressively, which kids famously love to do.
Inflammation and irritation: Your nose can become inflamed or irritated (a reaction that’s medically known as rhinitis) because of allergies, infections, and poor air quality, Dr. Husain says. Common illnesses can also mess with your nose. “When people have colds or the flu and there’s inflammation or irritation in the nose, that can make the blood vessels in that area a little bit more fragile,” Chantel Strachan, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, tells SELF.
Medications: Nosebleeds are more common among people who take or use certain medications, like nasal steroid sprays, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or blood thinners.1,2
Pregnancy: Hormonal changes and an increase in the amount of blood circulating throughout the body can cause blood vessels to expand, making nosebleeds more likely. Somewhere around 20% of pregnant people experience a nosebleed at some point.5
High altitudes: At high altitudes, less oxygen means drier air. If you’re a hiker, you fly on planes a lot, or you live somewhere far above sea level, you might be more prone to getting a nosebleed on your adventures, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Recreational drugs: On a very different note, snorting recreational drugs like cocaine can irritate the lining of the nose and contribute to nosebleeds. 1,3
Nasal or sinus surgery: If you’ve had sinus surgery and are experiencing nosebleeds, let your doctor know, Dr. Husain says. They can check to make sure your blood vessels aren’t damaged from the procedure. If you’ve recently undergone rhinoplasty to change the shape or size of your nose, you might also experience post-op nosebleeds.
How to stop a bloody nose fast
Grab a few tissues, some ice, and, if you have it handy, nasal decongestant spray, then follow these steps from the Cleveland Clinic to stop a nosebleed:
Lean forward while holding a tissue under your nose. Sit up and tilt your head forward with your chin down so the blood runs forward onto the tissue, rather than backward into your throat. (Seriously, don’t listen to any advice that tells you to tilt your head backward, lay flat, or put your head between your knees).
Gently blow your nose. This should hopefully remove any minor clots that might have formed in the nasal passages.
Optional: Grab an over-the-counter nasal decongestant. Using an OTC decongestant spray, such as oxymetazoline (which you might know by the brand names Afrin, Dristan, or Vicks Sinex), before applying pressure to your nose may also help slow bleeding. Yes, it sounds wild—and messy—but you can spray decongestant into your nose while it’s bleeding. You can also saturate a cotton ball with nasal spray and insert that into the bleeding nostril instead. Big caveat: Nasal spray shouldn’t be used regularly—it can actually have the opposite effect and cause more nosebleeds if you use it a lot.
Squeeze the soft part of the nose. Apply direct pressure to the bulbous part of your nose, squeezing hard to stop the bleeding (this constricts the blood vessels and cuts off blood flow). “Make a kind of pincer claw with your thumb and your index finger and squeeze the bottom, soft part of your nose,” Dr. Husain says. “Do not squeeze the bridge of your nose.” (It’s not going to hurt you or make things worse, but it’s also…not going to do anything.) Maintain this pressure for a minimum of 10 minutes, or up to 30 minutes if the bleeding hasn’t stopped in the first 10, Dr. Husain says.
If you have one handy: Put an ice pack on the bridge of your nose. If the bleeding hasn’t stopped post-squeezing, you can apply an ice pack to the bridge of your nose, which may help constrict the blood vessels and slow the bleeding.
Wipe your nose. All of that blood can dry up and feel uncomfortable so wet a clean paper towel and gently wipe away any excess blood.
After the bleeding stops, be gentle with your nose for a few days. Your nose is going to be tender after a nosebleed, so don’t blow it or rub it too much, or too hard.
Pretty easy, right? Now, let your body chill for a bit and congratulate yourself for your ace first aid mastery.
How to prevent nosebleeds if you get them all the time
If you’re experiencing frequent, mild nosebleeds with just a bit of blood, try making some changes to your day-to-day routine to avoid potential triggers as much as possible.
If you live in a warm, dry climate or are cranking the heat in your house all the time, run a humidifier in your home to add some moisture to the air, especially in the winter months.6 The Cleveland Clinic recommends a steam vaporizer if you’re looking for a humidifier that you can place in the rooms you spend the most time in. The Mayo Clinic also recommends putting a little bit of petroleum jelly inside your nostrils in the colder months. Apply the jelly two to three times per day for two weeks with a cotton swab to keep your nose moist. Alternatively, you can purchase a saline-based nasal gel that helps to limit dryness.6
If these tactics don’t work and you’re having nosebleeds that are hard to stop or especially painful or frequent, it’s time to visit a primary care doctor, who can evaluate you and refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist if necessary. But chances are your nosebleeds are nothing major—and if you’re annoyed by them regularly, a doctor can give you some extra pointers to prepare for the next time you see blood oozing from your nose!
Originally Appeared on SELF