Secret to Stopping a Nosebleed

Life’s challenges present great opportunities to gain hidden treasures of knowledge. At 8:30 on Sunday morning I received a call asking for tips to stop a nosebleed. My dear mother-in-law had been up since 3 am with a bloody nose. She has a history of nosebleeds and is pretty up-to-date on the options, which she had exhausted, and wondered if it might be time to seek medical intervention.

I have comfrey growing in my herb garden and know that it is an effective tool to help control bleeding. I harvested some fresh leaves and did a quick google search to learn exactly how to use it before heading over to her home. I found several references stating that comfrey can be used to stop nosebleeds, but no exact directions. So I headed out the door with comfrey in hand and hoped for the best.

I was relieved to find Steve, a physician assistant whose specialty just happens to be ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat), had arrived just before me. He examined her and determined that we didn’t need to rush her off to the emergency room to have it cauterized, but asked if anyone had Afrin Nasal Spray.  He explained that AFRIN works as a vasoconstrictor similar to cocaine. It would quickly constrict the vessels and stop the bleeding.

Afrin bottleThere was none to be found, but a quick trip to the market produced a bottle 20 minutes later. Due to the sheer amount of blood it was a little bit of a tricky process to spray the drug up into her nose, but we succeeded eventually. Within 3 minutes her nosebleed had completely stopped. It was absolutely amazing.

Steve always carries Afrin (or the generic brand) in his first aid kit and recommends everyone have a bottle around. The spray will have a similar effect on other areas of the body and may be an option to control some types of bleeding in an emergency.

It turns out that the Mayo Clinic also recommends using a decongestant nasal spray containing oxymetazoline for hard to control nosebleeds. The following is a quote from their website: 

Nosebleeds are common. Most often they are a nuisance and not a true medical problem. But they can be both.

To take care of a nosebleed

  • Sit upright and lean forward. By remaining upright, you reduce blood pressure in the veins of your nose. This discourages further bleeding. Sitting forward will help you avoid swallowing blood, which can irritate your stomach.
  • Pinch your nose. Use your thumb and index finger to pinch your nostrils shut. Breathe through your mouth. Continue to pinch for five to 10 minutes. Pinching sends pressure to the bleeding point on the nasal septum and often stops the flow of blood.
  • To prevent re-bleeding, don’t pick or blow your nose and don’t bend down for several hours after the bleeding episode. During this time remember to keep your head higher than the level of your heart.
  • If re-bleeding occurs, blow out forcefully to clear your nose of blood clots and spray both sides of your nose with a decongestant nasal spray containing oxymetazoline (Afrin, Mucinex Moisture Smart, others). Pinch your nose again as described above and call your doctor.

Seek medical care immediately if

  • The bleeding lasts for more than 20 minutes
  • The nosebleed follows an accident, a fall or an injury to your head, including a punch in the face that may have broken your nose

Contact your doctor if

  • You experience frequent nosebleeds. You may need a blood vessel cauterized. Cautery is a technique in which the blood vessel is burned with electric current, silver nitrate or a laser. Your doctor may pack your nose with special gauze or an inflatable latex balloon to put pressure on the blood vessel and stop the bleeding.
  • You’re experiencing nasal bleeding and are taking blood thinners, such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin). Your doctor may advise adjusting your medication dosage.

Using supplemental oxygen administered with a nasal tube (cannula) may increase your risk of nosebleeds. Apply a water-based lubricant to your nostrils and increase the humidity in your home to help relieve nasal bleeding.

Once again I had found my emergency medical supplies and knowledge lacking during a minor emergency with a store luckily only 10 minutes away. I had made a conscious decision not to stock nasal decongestant sprays due to their addictive nature. Now I know that an off-label use of Afrin might just come in very handy someday.