Under Pressure

Today’s guest columnist is Dr. Jeremy White, a Family Practice resident at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

“Not the table!” I shrieked, peering through my fingers at the slow-motion tragedy unfolding before me. It was my first night ever babysitting, for some family friends’ two-year old daughter. Mom and Dad had no sooner backed out the driveway for their night out, before WHAM!  Gracie had tripped and smacked her petite nose on the sturdy dining table. She didn’t cry at first, even giggled a little, until she saw blood on her hands.  Deep gasp….

Parents, kids, and even babysitters sometimes panic when they see bleeding. They can get frantic: when will it stop, that’s so much blood!, can my child breathe? Often the kid has smeared blood all over his face and clothes like a horror-movie victim, increasing everyone’s anxiety. Then when they get to the Emergency Department, most times the bleeding has stopped.

Many nosebleeds result from injuries: football passes gone awry, wrestling matches, or that pesky furniture that “leaps out” at toddlers. No matter how it happens, the mainstay of treatment of any bleeding is applied pressure. For nosebleeds, that means pinching the nostrils closed for 10 minutes. You don’t have to squeeze hard, gentle pressure is enough.

Often we anxiously check too soon to see if the bleeding has stopped, letting go of the nose to have a look. This isn’t really applying pressure. When we say pressure for 10 minutes, we mean 10 minutes on the clock, without letting go to check. Another common mistake is tilting the head back. This doesn’t help stop bleeding; it only allows blood to trickle down the back of the throat, leading to coughing, gagging, and nausea.

When do we need to take kids to a doctor?  Come in If the nose is obviously broken- crooked or dramatically swollen. If the child is in a lot of pain, or the bleeding just won’t stop after multiple attempts of 10 minutes of steady pressure, that should be seen. However, don’t panic. We’ve never ever had a child die of nose bleeds.  Apply pressure, don’t succumb to it!

I’ve been on several annual retreats to the Rocky Mountains with students from my old high school. When we would get off the bus at our destination, some kids would climb down with blood coming from their nostrils. One year six students got bloody noses!  Between the high-altitude thin air and super-low humidity, some kids’ noses just let go.

When kids breathe cold dry air, the inside of their noses gets dried out and can crack. Sometimes those cracks cut into blood vessels and POW!- bloody nose. This explains why we see nose bleeds so much in August, after we’ve been living in air conditioning all summer. That water you see dripping out of an air-conditioner is the moisture sucked out of the indoor atmosphere.

We also see lots of nosebleeds in the winter, when the air’s naturally cold and dry. Kids get more head colds in winter too. When excess snot from those spewing noses dries out and cracks, nasal blood vessels crack too. If your child has frequent nosebleeds, a bedside humidifier can keep nasal passages moist at night, when the air is driest. For allergic kids who aren’t supposed to use vaporizers (they can be mold-growers), saline nasal spray is another option.

Some children have extra-fragile blood vessels in their noses. With repeated bleeds, they get raw patches that don’t heal well. If your child has nosebleeds that keep recurring, then it’s time to see an Ear/Nose/Throat (ENT) specialist. The ENT has skinny scopes for looking inside noses and finding those raw spots. If necessary, the bad patches can be cauterized.

As we said above, children never lose a significant amount of blood, though parents sometimes panic when the kid paints his face, pajamas, and bedroom red. However, it always looks worse than it is. When a child is actively bleeding, gently squeeze the nostrils shut for 10 minutes on the clock, with no letting go during that time to check if it’s stopped. Again, no head tilting back either.  Don’t panic- as we also said above, apply pressure, don’t succumb to it!

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