A nosebleed is bleeding that begins inside the nostrils. Its medical name is epistaxis.
Most nosebleeds occur in children and older people and last for a short time. In rare cases, nosebleeds can be associated with other illnesses.
Nosebleeds usually start after a bump to the nose or when the lining of the nostrils becomes irritated, crusted, or dry. This precondition often happens when someone has a cold, infection, or allergy that affects the amount of mucus secreted from the nose. A high fever can also dry out the lining of the nose. When a person removes the crusts that may appear in the nose, bleeding may occur.
Nosebleeds have other causes, too. People with systemic hypertension, which is high blood pressure, are prone to nosebleeds because their blood vessels do not function well. Hypertension is quite common among older adults, but not all of them have problems with nosebleeds. Another cause of nosebleed is the abuse of inhaled drugs, such as cocaine * , that irritate the lining of the nose.
Most nosebleeds are quite easy to treat. A person with a nosebleed should sit down, lean slightly forward, and breathe through the mouth while holding the nostrils firmly closed between the thumb and forefinger. After 10 to 15 minutes, sometimes less, the bleeding should have stopped. The person should avoid blowing the nose for 12 hours after a nosebleed, because doing so could restart the bleeding. If the nosebleed does not stop after a few attempts at pinching the nostrils closed for 10 to 15 minutes each time, then a doctor should be contacted. The doctor might put cotton gauze with medication into the nostril to stop the bleeding. In some cases, he or she may also prescribe nose drops to be used by the patient for a few days to help control further bleeding.
Prolonged nose bleeding may be a sign of serious injury to the head or an indication of an illness, such as hypertension or sinus blockage. A doctor will recommend treatment suited to the cause of the nosebleed.
Although rare, nosebleeds are sometimes the result of serious diseases. These include leukemia (cancer of the white blood cells), liver disease, atherosclerosis (also called hardening of the arteries), and some hereditary bleeding disorders such as hemophilia * , in which the blood fails to clot properly.
The best way to prevent nosebleeds is to avoid bumping or picking the nose. People involved in contact sports, such as football or boxing, are more likely to receive bumps to the head or nose that result in nosebleeds. Medical professionals recommend wearing appropriate protective gear, such as face guards and masks, to help prevent these injuries. In general, humidifying (adding moisture to) the air indoors in the winter, when the air is very dry because of central heating, also helps protect individuals from nosebleeds.
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* cocaine (ko-KAYN) is a stimulant, a drug that produces a temporary feeling of alertness, energy, and euphoria.
* hemophilia (hee-mo-FIL-e-a) is a hereditary disease that results in abnormal bleeding because the blood fails to clot. It occurs almost exclusively in males.