What Causes Nosebleeds?

If you’ve ever wiped your nose and seen blood, you’ve had a nosebleed. They’re common: One out of every seven people in the United States will get a one at some point. They’re most common in kids between 2 and 10 years old and adults between 50 and 80 years old.

Types of Nosebleeds

A nosebleed comes either from the front of your nose (anterior) or the back of it (posterior).

  • Anterior nosebleeds: The wall that separates your nostrils is called a septum. It has a lot blood vessels that can break from a hit in the face, or even a scratch of your fingernail. Most nosebleeds start in the lower part of the septum, meaning close to your nostrils.
  • Posterior nosebleeds: These are the rarer type. They start deeper in the back of your nose. Posterior nosebleeds are more likely to happen in older people, those with high blood pressure, or those who have had a face injury.

It can be hard to tell if you have a posterior or anterior nosebleed. Both can make blood flow toward the back of your throat if you’re lying on your back. But posterior nosebleeds can be much more serious. You’re more likely to need to emergency help.

Causes

Most are spontaneous -- they happen unexpectedly and don’t have a known cause. But if you get nosebleeds a lot -- there may be a reason you can pinpoint:

  • Dry climates or dry, heated air that dries out the inside of your nose
  • Picking your nose or rubbing it too hard
  • A cold
  • Repeated nose-blowing
  • An injury to your nose
  • Allergies or allergy medicines that can dry out your nose
  • Other medications you’re taking
  • A sinus infection

It’s possible for nosebleeds to be caused by bleeding disorders, but it’s rare. If your nosebleed doesn’t stop, or you have a lot of bleeding from your gums or when you get minor cuts, then you should see a doctor. Bleeding disorders can be serious because platelets in your blood that help it clot are either missing or aren’t working.

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In some cases, nosebleeds can be caused by genes passed down in families. A rare condition called “hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia” (HHT) affects the blood vessels. The main symptom is repeated nosebleeds that seem to come out of nowhere and get worse over time.

If you have HHT, you might wake up at night with your pillow soaked in blood, and you may develop red spots on your face or hands. If one or both of your parents has this condition and you’re having nosebleeds, you should ask your doctor about being tested for it. Treatments are available to help improve your symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 12, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Otolaryngology: “Nosebleeds.”

KidsHealth.org: “Nosebleeds.”

HealthyChildren.org: “Nosebleed.”

Cleveland Clinic: “When Do Frequent Nose Bleeds Signal Rare, Dangerous Disorder?”

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