Why do we get nose bleeds?

Some 60 per cent of people have a nose bleed at least once in their lifetime. When do they become an issue and how do you manage them?

From the weather to medications or digital agitation – that’s nose picking in ordinary language – a range of situations can trigger a nose bleed.

In most cases, they’re no cause for concern; up to 25 per cent of people will have regular nose bleeds.

Causes of nose bleeds

In children and adolescents, nose bleeds – medically known as epistaxis – are particularly common.

In this age group the most frequent causes are trauma, such as a hit to the nose in the playground or during a footy match, and nose picking.

Our nose has a rich blood supply with plenty of blood vessels and nose picking irritates these very sensitive blood vessels at the top of the nose. When those vessels burst, it starts a nose bleed.

In adults, nose bleeds can also be caused by ongoing nasal and sinus infections that damage the thin lining of the wall of the nose and the soft tissue in the nose.

Dr Abhi Verma, of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, says the damage caused by infections makes blood vessels more sensitive and prone to bleeding.

“Some types of medication can also increase the frequency of nose bleeds. These include medications such as aspirin and warfarin that are blood thinners, and non-steroidal medications,” Dr Verma says.

Hot weather can be another trigger because heat causes blood vessels to dilate which can make bleeding more likely.

At the other extreme, very cold weather can also be a trigger.

Our nose helps warm and humidify the air that we breathe but in very cold temperatures when we breathe dry air for longer periods, our blood vessels become dehydrated and irritated and are more prone to bleed.

When to see a doctor about nose bleeds

Occasional nose bleeds aren’t usually a cause for concern.

But if they are prolonged or you’re getting them two to four times a month, Dr Verma advises seeing your GP who can check for any underlying cause, such as bleeding disorders.

How to stop a nose bleed

  • Apply direct pressure for two minutes to the fleshy bottom part of the nose using your thumb and index finger. “This stops most nose bleeds, but you need to count for two minutes and maintain pressure for that long,” Dr Verma says.
  • The nose is a sensitive humidifier so apply Vaseline to stop it drying out in cold weather. Or use a humidifier in your home.
  • Don’t blow your nose too aggressively.
  • Be aware that some complementary medications can increase the risk of bleeding. These include vitamin E, ginkgo biloba and black cohosh, which can be used to ease symptoms of menopause.

Written by Sarah Marinos