When To Go To The Doctor For A Bloody Nose

Millions of people across the country are affected by nosebleeds annually, according to experts at Yale Medicine. A nosebleed — referred to medically as "epistaxis" —  occurs as a result of broken blood vessels in the mucus membrane that lines the inside of the nose. Causes of this blood vessel damage can vary, including injuries, allergies, high blood pressure, or side effects of certain medications such as nasal sprays or blood thinners.

Nosebleeds are more often seen in children and older adults (via Cleveland Clinic). For children, this is because their blood vessels are more delicate. It's also not uncommon for a finger or stray object to make its way up a child's nose and potentially damage blood vessels. For older adults, blood tends to clot at a slower rate. This population is also more susceptible to health conditions that may increase one's chances of a bloody nose. 

When it comes to a bloody nose, there are two distinct kinds: anterior or posterior nosebleeds. While anterior nosebleeds are not usually cause for concern, posterior nosebleeds usually warrant emergency medical care.

Anterior versus posterior nosebleeds

If we were to liken a nosebleed to a cut on our arm, an anterior nosebleed would be more like a surface scrape. Bleeding takes place towards the front of the nose, with 90% of cases usually occurring in a region of the septum known as Little's area, according to a 2022 article published in StatPearls. Usually affecting only one nostril, anterior nosebleeds generally do not require medical treatment and can be self-treated (via Cleveland Clinic).

Conversely, posterior nosebleeds are the opposite of a mild arm scrape and can be thought of as a deeper wound that has penetrated down below the skin's surface. In these cases, damage has been inflicted on larger blood vessels deeper within the nasal cavity. Those with a posterior nosebleed may find themselves swallowing or coughing up blood which can obstruct the flow of oxygen. This type of nosebleed can affect both nostrils and often requires emergency medical attention to control.

When to see your doctor vs. when to go to the hospital

While it's not unusual to experience a bloody nose at one time or another during your life, there are instances in which you should speak with your doctor about your nosebleeds. Do so if you experience nosebleeds on a regular basis; have begun getting nosebleeds around the same time as taking a new medication; or have accompanying symptoms such as weakness, fainting, shortness of breath, or pale skin (via Cleveland Clinic). Such symptoms may be indicative of anemia. Alternatively, if you experience bruising in tandem with nosebleeds, this can be a sign of a blood-clotting disorder or other health condition in need of treatment. Infants who have experienced a nosebleed should also be brought to the doctor.

Generally speaking, most mild nosebleeds will resolve within roughly five to 10 minutes with at-home treatment. Emergency care is only needed in approximately 10% of cases. However, seek urgent medical attention if bleeding continues after 20 minutes of applying pressure, blood loss is significant, the nosebleed is due to physical trauma, or the person is vomiting or having trouble breathing.