Before we can answer why we get nosebleeds, let’s talk about what a nosebleed is in the first place. I mean a nosebleed sounds pretty self-explanatory but I’m talking about what causes that embarrassing red gush in the first place.

There are two types of nosebleeds — anterior nosebleeds, which occur in the front part of the nose, and posterior nosebleeds, which happen in the back of the nose. Over 90 percent of all nosebleeds fall in the anterior nosebleed category, which means that the blood is coming from a blood vessel that burst near the front of your nose, usually as a result of some sort of trauma.

This is the kind of nosebleed you get when you’ve been punched in the nose (and who hasn’t?). It’s also the kind of nosebleed you get when you’ve got a cold and you’ve been irritating your nose by blowing it too often. They tend to occur more often in the winter and in places that are dry, causing the inside of your nose to dry out thereby making the blood vessels inside more prone to burst.

A posterior nosebleed is much less common than an anterior one and occurs most often in elderly people. In this type of nosebleed, blood comes from the back of the nose and often flows down the throat in addition to the nose. Unlike an anterior nosebleed, a posterior nosebleed almost definitely requires a trip to the hospital, where nasal packing is inserted. The nasal packing required for a posterior nosebleed is usually very uncomfortable and often the patient gets pain medication or sedatives while it is in place. If nasal packing doesn’t work, then surgery may be the way to go.
If you’ve had a nosebleed before, I’m sure you’ve heard that you’re supposed to pinch your nose and tilt your head back to stop the blood from coming out. This is incorrect! You are actually supposed to pinch your nose for about 10 minutes to stop the bleeding, but you are supposed to lean slightly forward while doing this. Leaning your head back will cause you to swallow blood — not a good thing. If you do taste some blood in your mouth, be sure to spit it out right away instead of swallowing it, since it can make you throw up. Also, it’s important to sit up straight while you do this.
Once the bleeding has stopped, try to avoid your nosebleed starting up again by not blowing your nose for a while and sleeping with a humidifier near your bed if the air in your bedroom is particularly dry.

If the bleeding doesn’t stop on its own, a trip to the ER may be in order, where the doctor will either cauterize the wound, or put nasal packing in place which puts pressure on the bleed from inside the nose.

If you get frequent nosebleeds in a short amount of time, it could be a sign that something more serious is going on. If you’re bruising elsewhere on your body, or blood is coming out of other bodily orifices as well (I’ve always wanted to use the word orifices) and you see blood in your urine or stool, it could be a sign that your blood is having trouble clotting. Talk to your doctor if you suspect this to be the case.

By the way, anterior nosebleeds can also be a result of excessive nose picking. Yet another reason to stop digging for gold.

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