If you’ve ever had a nose bleed, you may have been startled – and a little afraid – at seeing blood coming from your nostril(s). Fortunately, most nosebleeds are minor and rarely a cause for alarm.

It is estimated that 1 out of every 7 individuals suffers from at least one nosebleed in his or her lifetime.

Why Do Nosebleeds Occur?

The nose is prone to bleeding due to a large number of blood vessels close to the surface, especially in the cartilage of the nasal septum. When these burst, blood may trickle (or in some instances, seep) from the nose. This is most often the result of trauma to the nose, blowing or picking the nose, and dry or cold air. Other causes include sinus infections, colds and allergies, foreign objects in the nasal cavity, blood clotting disorders, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and overuse of nasal sprays. Aspirin can exacerbate the condition. A hereditary disorder known as hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia is characterized by malformed blood vessels that break easily.

Most nosebleeds originate in the front of the nose and are characterized as anterior nosebleeds. These are easy to control and rarely pose a problem. Posterior nosebleeds are rare, but much more serious. They originate from an artery in the back of the nose, and require immediate hospitalization and treatment. These are most common in the elderly.

What Should I Do When My Nose is Bleeding?

If you are experiencing a nosebleed, first and foremost, stay calm! Though your nosebleed may look serious, chances are there is much less blood than appearances would lead you to believe. Sit down and lean forward slightly while pinching your nostrils together using a thumb and index finger. Hold this position for at least 5 minutes, or until the bleeding has stopped. Refrain from blowing your nose afterwards. If the bleeding hasn’t stopped after 20 minutes or is the result of an injury to the face, seek medical attention. Your doctor can deal with a bleeding nose by cauterizing the blood vessels or inserting packing into the nasal cavities.

If you are prone to frequent nosebleeds, try using a humidifier to moisten the air. Avoid tobacco smoke. Saline nasal sprays or petroleum jelly can help keep your nasal passages moist.