How to Stop a Bloody Nose the Right Way

Bloody noses (officially known as epistaxis) are uncomfortable and scary-looking, but most of the time, they're usually not dangerous. Kids get nosebleeds more often than adults, typically either from irritating the nasal membrane with digital trauma (picking their noses) or from other external trauma (like a soccer ball in the face). When adults get nosebleeds, it could be an indicator of a more severe medical problem. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have gotten bloody noses, especially without physical trauma.


Lean Forward, Not Back

Boy with nosebleed leaning forward
Stockbyte / Getty Images

Don't try to protect a favorite shirt by leaning back. One of the biggest myths in first aid is that you should lean back with a bloody nose. Often, people are much more worried about their clean white shirt than they are about their personal safety. Plus, many people don't realize how dangerous a bloody nose really is.

Momma might have told you to lean your head back when you got a bloody nose, but she had an ulterior motive: she didn't want to ruin your soccer jersey.

Lean forward, not back. The blood needs to go somewhere and if the patient leans back or lies down, it will most likely go down the throat. Blood could get in the windpipe causing a blocked airway or go into the stomach. Blood may irritate the stomach lining and cause the patient to vomit suddenly, which will likely do more damage to the shirt than a few drops of blood.

It's probably not about saving the shirt as much as the fact that we don't like the sight of blood. We lean back to hide the bleeding more than anything else.


Pinch the Nose (Correctly)

Pinch high above the nostrils
powerofforever / Getty Images 

Most people instinctively pinch the nose during a nosebleed, but there's a right way to do it versus a wrong way.

Pinch the patient's nose just below the bony bridge. Don't just pinch the nostrils closed. Your fingers should be on the bone as well as the soft tissue. If there is still blood flowing, adjust your grip. There should not be visible bleeding while you are holding the nose.

When you're doing it right, the patient should be able to breathe through the nose while you're pinching the blood flow off.

Be Patient With Your Patient (This Might Take a While)

The blood vessels that supply the nasal membrane can be pinched against the bony bridge (the hard part). This stops or slows the blood flow to allow a clot to form and stop the bleeding. Hold the nose for at least five minutes. Follow these tips:

  • Do not let go to check bleeding until at least the first five minutes is up. If you can, keep the pressure on for more than five minutes.
  • After five minutes (and not before), release the pressure to see if the bleeding has stopped. If not, pinch again, but keep it up for 10 minutes this time. Remember: don't let go to check bleeding until the 10 minutes is up. If bleeding doesn't stop after 10 minutes, repeat for another 10 minutes if necessary.
  • Placing ice or a chemical cold pack over the bridge of the nose can constrict the blood vessels and help stop bleeding. Ice isn't going to fix nose bleeding by itself. Use ice in addition to pressure.
  • After the bleeding is controlled, do not let the victim blow his or her nose. Blowing the nose will release the clots and encourage bleeding to start again.

When to See the Doctor

If a nosebleed doesn't stop after the second or third try (15 to 20 minutes of applying pressure), it's time to see a doctor. You should also see a doctor if the bleeding was due to an injury such as a fall or a blow to the face.

If the nosebleed is rapid and the person is losing enough blood (more than a cup) or if the blood is going down the back of the throat, you should see a doctor. If at any time the patient feels lightheaded, dizzy, or weak, call 911. If left uncontrolled, bloody noses can lead to shock.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • Nosebleeds. (2014). American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.