Winter Nosebleeds Do’s and Don'ts
We separate the myths from the doctor-approved advice
You love winter: the snow, the ice-skating, the cozy fires. But winter doesn’t love your nose. Cold, bone-dry air and unforgiving indoor heating systems conspire to dry and irritate the delicate membranes inside your nose, boosting the chances that tiny blood vessels will bleed.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 60 percent of people will have a nosebleed at some point, most commonly children under 10 or adults over 50.
“For most people, nosebleeds aren’t dangerous,” says Ileana Showalter, MD, an ear, nose and throat physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. But they’re annoying and messy.
Follow these science- and doctor-backed do’s and don’ts to treat — and prevent — your or your child’s next nose gush.
Moisten the air. Use a humidifier with cool mist, preferably at your bedside. “The coolness helps the moisture get into the nose,” says Showalter. Set it to 50 percent humidity or less. More humidity could lead to unwanted mold in your room. If your humidifier does not have a built-in humidity meter, you can buy one online or at big box stores.
Spritz your smeller. “Use a saline spray up to six to seven times a day during the winter to keep the nostrils moist,” says Showalter. Or you can rub a bit of over-the-counter nasal gel such as Ayr or Ocean just inside each nostril.
Pinch your nostrils. To stop the bleeding, pinch your nostrils just below the nasal bones with your thumb and forefinger for a minute or two. If the gush isn’t slowing, keep it pinched for several minutes more.
Tip your head forward. If you tip your head backward or lie down, you may swallow blood, which could make you throw up, putting more force on your bleeding nasal passage, says Showalter. Sitting up also reduces the blood pressure in your nose’s blood vessels. If you feel blood in your throat, spit it into a bowl. That will help you know how much blood you are losing, which may be useful information for your doctor if things don’t improve.
Put the gush on ice. If pinching doesn’t completely stop the bleeding, hold a cold compress or ice wrapped in a towel on the bleeding side(s) of your nose to constrict the blood vessels, which should help stop the bleeding.
Try a nasal spray. Another option if pinching doesn’t do the trick: a decongestant nasal spray such as oxymetazoline (Afrin, Mucinex Moisture, Smart). These constrict the blood vessels. “Use two to three sprays on the side of your nose that is bleeding,” says Showalter.
See a doctor if the gush goes on. If the bleeding hasn’t stopped in 20 to 30 minutes, if it interferes with your breathing, or if you have a nosebleed more than once a week, see your doctor, says Showalter. Also see a doctor ASAP if you can’t get the bleeding under control.
“If you lose more than a cup of blood or the bleeding isn’t slowing, go to your family doctor or an ear, nose and throat doctor, an emergency room, or a walk-in clinic immediately,” says Showalter.
The doctor may cauterize the bleeding vessels with a laser, electric current, or silver nitrate to stop the bleeding. He may also pack your nose with medical gauze or inflate a latex balloon to put pressure on the blood vessels.
Don’t pack your nose with tissue. It’s okay to do so for a few minutes for a mild nosebleed, says Showalter. But leaving the tissue in for longer periods can cause infection.
Don’t blow your nose after a nosebleed. Wait at least several hours after it has stopped bleeding.
Don’t bend over. Keep your head higher than your heart. “The concern is that you might start a second nosebleed,” says Showalter.
Don’t pick your nose (kids, this means you). If your child is prone to nose picking, his fingernails can scratch his nose’s winter-dried lining and make it bleed. “If you have dried mucus in your nose, use a salt-water spray several times. That will loosen up the dried mucus. Then you can gently blow it out,” says Showalter.
Don’t smoke. Smoking dries out your nose, not to mention the havoc it wreaks on the rest of your body.