Ear, Nose and Throat | July 2, 2014 | Author: The Super Pharmacist
Epistaxis is the medical term for a nosebleed. Most cases of epistaxis are of a minor self-limiting nature, in some instances however, the nosebleed can be severe or recurrent. Nosebleeds are so common almost everyone either has had an episode or witnessed one. This article explores the causes of epistaxis and how it can be managed.
Epidemiology refers to the study of the distribution of a disease in the population. The epidemiology of epistaxis shows that minor episodes are so common, over half the population has suffered at least one over their lifetime, however, only a fraction of these (about 10%) required medical attention. Epistaxis affects more frequently either the young (less than 10 years old) or the people over the age of 50 years, and is somewhat more common in men. Having said that, anyone can have a nosebleed.
The two basic types of nosebleeds are defined by the site of origin in the nose. Before we can understand the types, we should know a few things about the structure of the nose.
As you must have noticed, the nose is not a single cavity, it is two cavities, located up each nostril. The two cavities are separated by a partition which you can feel with the tip of your finger. This is called the nasal septum. The inner wall of each cavity is the nasal septum; the outer wall is formed by the lateral wall of the nose.
The entire nose inside is lined by a moist membrane called the mucosa which contains blood vessels and capillaries.
The two basic types of nosebleeds are Anterior epistaxis and Posterior epistaxis.
The majority of nosebleeds are so inconsequential, they are hardly ever reported. However for some, the sight of blood, especially from the nose of a child is a cause of distress and alarm, and when this becomes a recurring problem, it mandates a search for the cause of the bleeding. There are so many conditions and diseases that can present with epistaxis fortunately most of these are rare. Only the more common causes are listed below:
Local causes are factors which affect the nose directly resulting in bleeding. They are not widespread diseases of the blood or body.
Foreign bodies in the nose are common in children and can cause bleeding. Examples are small toy parts and beads.
Mucosal drying will occur in cold, dry winters or getting back into dry, heated rooms.
Trauma to the face and nose can lead to epistaxis. A nasal fracture has to be ruled out.
Infections of the nose (rhinitis) or sinuses (sinusitis) are another common cause of epistaxis. Some people will notice that they have recurrent nosebleeds whenever they catch a cold.
Systemic causes are generalised diseases and disorders of the body, especially of blood and circulation, which have epistaxis as one of their manifestations.
Hypertension has a dual relation to epistaxis; it can be its cause or effect. Blood pressure can rise as the body responds to the haemorrhage (bleeding), on the other hand, raised blood pressure can underlie epistaxis. In an elderly patient, a difficult to control and recurring nosebleed is frequently associated with uncontrolled hypertension.
Medications like aspirin and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can prolong the time it takes for blood to clot. If a person experiencing nosebleeds is on any such medication, he/she should consult the doctor about alternatives until the bleeding is controlled.
Bleeding disorders are of many types. There is usually a long history of repeated episodes of difficult to manage epistaxis. Other suggestive features such as easy bruising and excessive bleeding from minor wounds are often present. A complete workup is required.
Minor episodes do not require workup. Moderate to severe episodes are to be investigated. Basic workup will include a complete blood count, followed by a coagulation profile. Specific tests are required to rule out particular causes.
For mild nosebleeds, home measures should suffice. An effective method to stop the bleeding is to apply pressure.
Other treatment options include using an antibiotic ointment such as bacitracin inside the nose and saline drops/sprays.
For more significant nosebleeds, consult with your family physician or general practitioner. If the first-aid measures described above do not help, your doctor can consider further options.
One of these is cauterisation. This can be electrical or chemical with silver nitrate. A local anesthetic is employed prior to the procedure to minimise pain. Cauterisation will not work if there are multiple bleeders that are difficult to localise.
The next step is nasal packing. Anterior and posterior nasal packing is done for anterior or posterior epistaxis respectively. The anterior pack is usually ribbon gauze but it can be some other material such as Merocel. A Foley catheter may be used for posterior packing. Posterior packing can also be done with a gauze roll or special balloon catheters. Nasal packing will control most cases of epistaxis. The pack can stay for about 3 days. Antibiotic cover such as Augmentin Duo (amoxycillin plus clavulanic acid) is provided to prevent infection.
For severe repeated epistaxis, referral to an ENT specialist (otolaryngologist) will be required. Epistaxis is rarely life-threatening, nonetheless, occasionally a case may present where the bleeding is excessive, recurrent and increasingly difficult to control. Such a nosebleed can be fatal and urgent intervention is required.
When cauterisation and nasal packing do not work the culprit artery has to be tied off (ligated). The ENT surgeon will identify the bleeding vessel and try to ligate it as distally (as close to the bleeding point as possible). If the artery cannot be secured distally, a more proximal (near its origin) ligation is considered. Either distal or proximal, the procedure will require various surgical incisions and approaches.
Newer techniques that are less invasive are endoscopic ligation and angiographic embolisation.
Endoscopic ligation is a relatively new technique. The blood vessel that needs to be ligated is visualised through a nasal endoscope. The advantage is direct visualisation and a less invasive procedure.
Angiographic embolisation4 is a way of occluding the bleeding vessel. A catheter is passed through the groin up into the arterial branches supplying the nose. The culprit vessel is occluded. The procedure has its associated risks.
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