About one in seven people experiences a random nosebleed at some point in his or her life, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. Children and people older than 50 are the most likely to have a sudden nosebleed, and the trigger can be as minor as blowing one’s nose too hard or as serious as a clotting disorder.
“People of all ages experience nosebleeds, although often for different reasons,” says Dr. Jane DeFalco, a pediatrician with Mercy Clinic Pediatrics Chesterfield. “Children, who get more frequent colds, are more prone to suffer minor nasal traumas while playing and are more likely to pick or rub their nose. This means the lining of the nose is more likely to occasionally bleed. Nosebleeds tend to be especially common between the ages of 2 and 10 years old.”
This time of year is especially hard on nasal passages, as colds and sinusitis, along with dry, cold air, cause mucous membranes to dry and become more prone to bleeding. “Using a cool mist vaporizer at night, applying a dab of Vaseline on the inner surface of the nostrils, or using saline spray or rinse can provide lubrication to the lining of the nose and may prevent recurrent bleeding,” says Dr. Julia Young, a pediatrician with Cardinal Glennon SSM Medical Group Pediatrics in South County.
If your child has a nosebleed, the first step is to stay calm. “Nosebleeds might feel scary, but they are rarely prolonged or serious,” DeFalco says. “Have the child sit up and bend slightly forward. Tilting the head backwards increases the likelihood of swallowing blood, which is irritating to the stomach. Gently pinch the lower nose (not the bridge) between your finger and thumb, using a tissue. Apply consistent pressure for 10 minutes—no peeking!—before checking to see if the bleeding has stopped.”
DeFalco emphasizes the no-peeking rule and adds, “The most common mistake that people make is checking inside the nose to see if the bleeding has stopped before 10 minutes has passed, which disrupts any clot starting to from.”
To prevent bleeding from starting again, avoid picking or blowing the nose, don’t strain or bend down to lift a heavy object, and keep the head elevated above the level of the heart, says Dr. Divya Chauhan, a family physician with Creve Coeur Family Medicine and on staff at St. Luke’s Hospital.
After it’s over, DeFalco suggests that parents use their detective skills to identify a possible cause. Questions to ask may include: Is the air in our house too dry? Is my child frequently rubbing his nose, as if allergies are causing it to itch? Has a runny nose caused the inside of his nose to become inflamed? Did his brother truly just ‘tap’ him on the face during that last argument? Could that small plastic toy I saw him playing with yesterday now be up his nose?
In most cases, children’s nosebleeds are minor. However, if nosebleeds occur frequently, cause significant blood loss, or if the parent has difficulty controlling the bleeding despite appropriate pressure and time allotted for clotting, it’s time for the child to see a physician. Other related symptoms, including bleeding from other sites, such as the gums, bruising, pallor, fatigue or dizziness, also should prompt a visit to the doctor.
“The most important thing to remember is that nosebleeds in children are common; and—although intimidating for both the child and parent—using a calm, controlled approach, nosebleeds generally can be managed safely at home,” Young concludes.