Your child is almost certain to have at least one nosebleed—and probably many—during their early years. Some preschoolers have several a week. This is neither abnormal nor dangerous, but it can be very frightening. If blood flows down from the back of the nose into the mouth and throat, your child may swallow a great deal of it, which in turn may cause vomiting.
What causes nosebleeds?
There are many causes of nosebleeds, most of which aren’t serious. Beginning with the most common, they include:
- Colds and allergies: A cold or allergy causes swelling and irritation inside the nose and may lead to spontaneous bleeding.
- Trauma: A child can get a nosebleed from picking their nose, putting something into it, or just blowing it too hard. A nosebleed also can occur if they are hit in the nose by a ball or other object, of fall and hit their nose.
- Low humidity or irritating fumes: If your house is very dry, or if you live in a dry climate, the lining of your child’s nose may dry out. This makes it more likely to bleed. If they are frequently exposed to toxic fumes (fortunately, an unusual occurrence), they may get nosebleeds, too.
- Anatomical problems: Any abnormal structure inside the nose can lead to crusting and bleeding.
- Abnormal growths: Any abnormal tissue growing in the nose may cause bleeding. Although most of these growths (usually polyps) are benign (not cancerous), they still should be treated promptly.
- Abnormal blood clotting: Anything that interferes with blood clotting can lead to nosebleeds. Medications, even common ones like ibuprofen, can alter blood-clotting just enough to cause bleeding. Blood diseases, such as hemophilia, also can provoke and worsen nosebleeds.
- Chronic illness: Any child with a long-term illness, or who may require extra oxygen or other medication that can dry out or affect the lining of the nose, is likely to have nosebleeds.
How to treat nosebleeds in children
There are many misconceptions and folktales about how to treat nosebleeds. Here’s a list of dos and don’ts.
Do. . .
- Remain calm. A nosebleed can be frightening, but is rarely serious.
- Keep your child in a sitting or standing position. Tilt their head slightly forward.
- Pinch the lower half of your child’s nose (the soft part) between your thumb and finger and hold it firmly for at least 10 minutes. If your child is old enough, they can do this themselves. Don’t release the nose during this time to see if it is still bleeding (no peeking)! Stopping the pressure may interfere with the forming of the clot and allow the bleeding to continue.
- Release the pressure after 10 minutes and wait, keeping your child quiet and still. If the bleeding hasn’t stopped, hold pressure again. If after 10 more minutes of pressure the bleeding hasn’t stopped, call your pediatrician or go to the nearest emergency department.
Don’t . . .
- Panic. You’ll just scare your child.
- Have them lie down or tilt back their head.
- Stuff tissues, gauze, or any other material into your child’s nose to stop the bleeding.
Also call your pediatrician if:
- You think your child may have lost too much blood or continues to bleed heavily. (But keep in mind that the blood coming from the nose always looks like a lot.)
- The bleeding is coming only from your child’s mouth, or he’s coughing or vomiting blood or brown material that looks like coffee grounds.
- Your child is unusually pale or sweaty, or is not responsive. Call your pediatrician immediately in this case, and arrange to get your child to the emergency room.
- He has a lot of nosebleeds, along with a chronically stuffy nose. This may mean he has a small, easily broken blood vessel in the nose or on the surface of the lining of the nose, or a growth in the nasal passages.
If a blood vessel is causing the problem, the doctor may touch that point with a chemical substance (silver nitrate) to stop the bleeding.
How to prevent nosebleeds
If your child gets a lot of nosebleeds, ask your pediatrician about using saltwater (saline) nose drops every day. Doing so may be particularly helpful if you live in a very dry climate, or when the furnace is on. In addition, a humidifier or vaporizer will help maintain your
home’s humidity at a level high enough to prevent nasal drying. Also tell your child not to pick their nose.
If your child still gets nosebleeds despite the moisture to the nostrils, the doctor may refer your child to a pediatric ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT or otolaryngologist) or do tests to evaluate for a bleeding disorder.