For most of your life, nosebleeds are nothing to worry about. However, when compared to young adults, sometimes nosebleeds in the elderly could be a symptom of something more severe. The good news is that most of the time, a nosebleed is still just a nosebleed.
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The bad news is that frequent nosebleeds in older adults could indicate arterial hypertension, cardiovascular disease, coagulation disorders, and half a dozen or more other serious conditions. Even if the underlying cause is as simple as dry air, regular nosebleeds may lead to anemia, so it’s not a longterm problem you can ignore.
What causes nosebleeds in the elderly?
For nosebleeds that aren’t a symptom of another health problem, the most common causes of nosebleeds in elderly adults are actually related to natural aging. In many cases, these types of nosebleeds are avoidable, or alleviation is possible.
In a literal sense, our skin often gets thinner with age. Thin skin is easier to damage, so habitual nose picking with lengthy nails can become a recipe for bleeding. Similar damage occurs when forcefully clearing the nose. Even blowing too hard into a tissue may tear sensitive mucous membranes. Besides the possibility of tearing, those tissues can become dried out by changes in temperature and humidity. Dried skin may crack and bleed, and with thinner skin, each of these problems can occur more frequently.
But what causes severe nosebleeds in elderly adults? Unfortunately, the answer could be anything from head trauma from a fall to heart disease. Head trauma is usually recognizable. In the case of heart disease, an older adult with hardened arteries may bleed from deeper in the nose, which means more blood drains during a nosebleed. Excessive nosebleeds in elderly adults have so many possible causes, your physician is the only one who can determine if nosebleeds are something more.
Treatment for nosebleeds in elderly adults
Well-trimmed nails, a humidifier, and being gentler on the nose can help reduce the rate of nosebleeds. Quitting smoking is a good idea for many reasons, but in this case, it’s a good idea because smoke can dry the nose. To be proactive, you can apply a saline nasal product or petroleum jelly to help moisturize the inside of the nose.
To stop a nosebleed, start by pinching the soft cartilage of the nose. Breathe through the mouth while leaning forward because it helps drain blood to the nose, instead of the throat. And instead of laying down, remain upright to reduce blood pressure on the vessels of the nose. That will discourage bleeding.
You can further discourage bleeding by placing an icepack across the bridge of the nose. If you don’t have an icepack on hand, a bag of frozen veggies works as a substitute.
Following these steps, nosebleeds in older adults should last no longer than 15 minutes.
When to seek help for nosebleeds
Severe nosebleeds in the elderly can sometimes require treatment. With heavy bleeding, or bleeding that doesn’t stop in 20 minutes, consider seeking urgent care, particularly if your loved one is taking a blood-thinning medication, or another anticoagulant which may interfere with clotting.
For older adults who have experienced frequent nosebleeds, be on the lookout for shortness of breath, heart palpitations, paleness, and other symptoms of anemia. These are indications you should seek emergency care.
Just a nosebleed
Most nosebleeds aren’t anything to worry about. In most instances, helping your loved ones suffer from fewer nosebleeds will be as simple as following the steps outlined above. However, it’s always important to identify the cause of frequent nosebleeds in elderly adults. Whether it’s low humidity or something more severe, regularly losing blood will eventually lead to serious health repercussions.