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Everything you need to know about this common winter-time woe

Lindsey Murray
January 15, 2016

Getting a nosebleed (or even just blowing your nose and finding blood) can be scary, embarrassing, and a little gross. But the truth is, this unfortunate body phenomenon is common during the winter time, and (thankfully) it is rarely a sign of something serious.

Nosebleed can be caused by a number of different things, explains Joseph K. Han, MD, the director of Divisions of Rhinology and Endoscopic Sinus-Skull Base Surgery and Allergy at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

The most common is dryness in your mucosa, the lining inside your nose. “The mucosa, especially your septum is full of blood vessels and what prevents it from bleeding is that you have liquid kind of keeping it moist,” Dr. Han says. "What happens is if you have a lot of dry air all that moisture evaporates and dries out, and then you can get bleeding.”

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Other common causes include scratching the same part of skin over and over (aka picking your nose; this is often a problem for children) and prolonged, daily use of nasal spray, which can cause erosion of the mucosa. (This becomes a problem if you're using Afrin or another nasal spray on a daily basis to help your allergies. But it's fine to use these sprays for short-term symptoms of the common cold or a sinus infection.)

The best advice for stopping a nosebleed

Dr. Han says that the best way to stop a nosebleed is to prevent it by keeping the lining of your nose hydrated as the air gets drier during the winter months. He recommends using a humidifier in your home and a nasal moisturizer, like Ayr Saline Nasal Gel ($3; amazon.com) to soothe dry skin around the nose.

And if a nosebleed comes on, don’t panic. These are much more common in the colder winter months when there is lower humidity in the air.

Dr. Han recommends pinching the bridge of your nose right below the bone when a bleed comes on. “That’s where most of the blood flow is at so that’s one way to stop it,” he says.

You should also sit and lean your head slightly forward, using a tissue to catch the blood. Leaning your head back can cause the blood to drain down your throat, causing upset stomach.

Dr. Han also recommends using over the counter nasal spray with oxymetazoline, like Afrin ($6; amazon.com), to put a halt to the blood flow. As mentioned earlier, overusing Afrin or other nasal sprays can bring on nosebleeds, but when you're actively bleeding they can help because the oxymetazoline works to constrict the blood vessels, he explains.

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Are nosebleeds ever a sign of something serious?

“The most common cause of nose bleeds is bleeding from the blood vessels in the front part of the nose, which will lead to a small trickle of blood,” Dr. Han says. But if you are experiencing a larger blood flow, your nosebleed could be more serious.

Some common causes of heavy nosebleeds include a nasal fracture (usually from falling or getting hit in the face), tumors or bleeding disorders. People with high blood pressure may also experience a heavier flow if they get a nosebleed.

If pinching your nose and applying an over-the-counter spray does little to squelch your nosebleed after 15 or 20 minutes, Dr. Han says you should head to the local urgent care or emergency room. A doctor will need to examine your nose to determine the cause and possibly prescribe treatment, like medications (especially if you have high blood pressure or another health condition that's causing the bleed), repairing the nasal fracture, or cauterization to seal the bleeding vessel.

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