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What You Need to Know About Nosebleeds

What You Need to Know About Nosebleeds

Learn how the cold, dry air wreaks havoc on your nostrils.

You’re more likely to get nosebleeds during the cold and dry winter months. In most cases, nosebleeds aren’t anything to worry about, but they can be frightening, annoying or embarrassing if you have one in public.

“The vast majority of people who get nosebleeds in the winter get them because winter is a drier, colder time which is more irritating to the inside of the nose. We’re also spending more time outdoors,” says family practitioner David Hnida, DO, at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center and Skyline Primary Care in Denver, Colorado.

The cold, dry air that comes with winter weather combined with the dry heat from your home’s heater dries out your nostrils.

“The air indoors tends to be much drier when the heat is running and because of that, we wind up having more drying and cracking of the mucus membranes inside of the nostrils,” says Dr. Hnida. Some 90 percent of nosebleeds come from the front part of the nose and are usually caused by dryness or irritation, he adds.

The people most likely to get nosebleeds
Anyone can have a nosebleed, but Hnida says young children and those over the age of 50 are more likely to get them. “People over the age of 50, particularly women who’ve gone through menopause, tend to have drier mucus membranes, including the inside of the nose,” says Hnida.

Other people more likely to get nosebleeds include those who have chronic conditions like blood clotting disorders or tumors, and people with allergies or colds.

“If you’re coming off of a cold, or some sort of upper respiratory infection, you’re more prone to having nosebleeds for weeks afterwards until the inside lining of the nose goes back to normal.” Constantly blowing your nose, whether you have cold or not, may lead to nosebleeds, too.

4 ways to prevent nosebleeds
The single best thing you can do for your nose in the winter months is to stay hydrated, says Hnida. Stay hydrated with H20—six to eight cups a day is best—to keep the lining of your nose moisturized. Here are some other ways you can keep the lining of your nose moisturized and healthy:

  • Use a humidifier
    “I tell people to use a vaporizer or a humidifier. They can be really helpful, especially while you’re sleeping,” says Hnida. Humidifiers put moisture back into the dry air that would otherwise inflame the airways of the nose and throat. 
     
  • Stock up on saline spray  
    Hnida is a big advocate of saline (saltwater) nasal spray, because it will moisten dry nasal passages and prevent drying and cracking. “Pick up a bottle of over-the counter saline spray and use it everyday in the winter.” Using nasal spray regularly will help allergies and runny noses, too.
     
  • Nix your smoking habit  
    Smoking tends to irritate and dry out the nose. Try smoking less or quitting all together. If you’re not sure where to start, there are resources that can help. Visit smokefree.gov to learn why you should quit, helpful ways you can kick the habit and for support groups that will encourage you.

How to handle a nosebleed
If you happen to get a nosebleed, sit upright and lean your head slightly forward—not back like you may have heard before. Blow your nose to get any small clots out, then pinch the nostrils between your thumb and forefinger for at least 10 minutes, says Hnida. If you let go any earlier than that, it’s likely you’ll still have bleeding.  

It’s important to remember that if you lie down or put ice on the back of your neck, you may end up swallowing a lot of blood.

And after you’ve stopped the bleeding, your doctor may recommend you use an antibiotic ointment inside your nose if it’s really dry. But Hnida says to keep all products out of your nose unless your doctor recommends it. “Even petroleum jelly is a chemical. And any of these ointments may make the irritation worse.”

When it may be a sign of something worse
Nosebleeds are usually harmless, but Hnida says if you’re having three to four nosebleeds a week you should see your healthcare provider. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded or have shortness of breath or a racing heartbeat during your nosebleeds, you should see your healthcare provider, too.  

If you’re having frequent nosebleeds and you also notice that you’re bruising easily, your mouth bleeds when you brush your teeth or you have excessive bleeding with cuts or scrapes, see your doctor. 

Nosebleeds are just a part of winter, but if you feel like they’re occurring too often or they’re causing any other problems, discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider to be safe. 

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