Bleeding nose and gums

Dear Alice,

I just came here this fall. Since then, my nose has been bleeding occasionally without any injury. My friend told me it was because of the dry air of U.S. Is he right? How can I prevent this situation? I also have a problem when I brush my teeth. My gums are always bleeding and not just a little!! What should I do? Thanks.

— Bloody face

Dear Bloody face,

Nosebleeds, also known as epistaxis, occur when blood vessels inside the nose become damaged, most often from inside one nostril only, causing individuals to bleed from their nose. Nosebleeds are most common in childhood, infrequent in healthy young adults, and become more common and serious in old age. The most common causes of nosebleeds are a blow to the nose, fragile blood vessels, or from dislodged crusts that form in the mucous membrane as a result of a cold or infection. In terms of your bleeding gums, this is usually a symptom of gingivitis — an early, but reversible, stage of gum disease that is characterized by inflammation of the gums (more on this later). The bleeding from your nose and from your gums are likely coming from two separate causes. 

Your friend could be right, as dry air can definitely cause the blood vessels in your nose to dry out, making you more susceptible to nosebleeds. If you think the dry air could be the culprit, you can put a humidifier in your room or apartment. A similar, but less expensive, option is to put pans of water on top of your radiators. The heat causes the water to evaporate, which adds moisture to the air. Then you can refill the pans as necessary.

Most nosebleeds can be controlled at home by using simple first aid measures. This sequence of steps can help you safely control the bleeding:

  1. Relax, sit in a chair, and lean forward slightly with your mouth held open so that blood or clots don't obstruct the airway.
  2. Pinch the lower part of your nostrils for about five minutes, and continue to breathe through your mouth.
  3. After five minutes is up, release your nostrils slowly. If the bleeding hasn't stopped, then continue to pinch your nose for another ten minutes.
  4. If and once the bleeding has stopped, avoid bending over, lifting anything heavy, and rubbing or blowing your nose for a few days.

Although rare, recurrent nosebleeds can be a sign of an underlying disorder, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), a bleeding disorder, or a tumor located in the nose or sinuses. If your nosebleeds are happening consistently, it's recommended to see your health care provider to learn more.

When it comes to your bleeding gums, gingivitis is likely the culprit. This occurs if plaque is allowed to collect around the base of the teeth. Untreated gingivitis may lead to periodontitis, which is the advanced stage of gum disease and causes pockets to form between the gums and teeth. If your gums continue to bleed, a good cleaning at the dentist to clear away the plaque may be helpful. Very rarely, bleeding gums are due to leukemia, a type blood cell cancer, or scurvy, which is characterized as a vitamin C deficiency. If the gum bleeding isn't due to gingivitis, a health care provider can help determine the potential cause.

Keep taking note of those leaky "faucets!" Paying attention to your health is key to finding the solution that works best for you.

Last updated Oct 29, 2021
Originally published Dec 01, 1994

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