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Epistaxis Therapy (Bloody Nose)

Table of Contents:

Introduction to epistaxis therapy with topical drugs (click here)

Literature overview and discussion (click here)

Personal insights from experienced clinicians (click here)

Treatment protocol (click here)

Bibliography (click here)



Patients with acute anterior epistaxis (bloody nose) frequently visit the emergency department when they are unable to control or stop their nosebleed.  Traditional care of these patients includes a stepwise process initially using topical anesthetics and vasoconstrictors such as 4% cocaine alone or lidocaine plus epinephrine. Once the bleeding is controlled and the nasal mucosa can be visualized cautery and nasal packing are often provided.[1] If patients require treatment beyond simple topical medication application they consume significantly more emergency room or clinic resources in terms of materials, physician time, ENT consultations and even operative intervention.[2, 3]  In addition, patients requiring home nasal packing are uncomfortable and they suffer an increased risk of sinus infection, hypoxia, hypercapnia and myocardial ischemia.[1, 3, 4]  Reducing the need to progress beyond simple topical medication application would simplify care of these patients, allow many patients to self treat at home for future similar spells, shorten their emergency room or clinic length of stay, reduce costs and possibly reduce morbidity.

Topical Thrombin spray for epistaxisThe optimal topical medication for the treatment of epistaxis has not been extensively investigated. Options include topical vasoconstrictors, which are inexpensive, and topical clotting factors such as thrombin, which are more expensive. Topical vasoconstrictor options include cocaine, phenylephrine and oxymetazoline. Unfortunately, topical epinephrine (usually combined with lidocaine for anesthesia) is relatively ineffective.[5] Topical cocaine is more effective than lidocaine/epinephrine but presents problems due to the fact that it is a controlled substance and its cost has skyrocketed in the last 2 decades.[6] Furthermore, the cardiovascular stimulation that can occur with cocaine might be a problem in the elderly as the very young.   Phenylephrine can also cause substantial cardiovascular stimulation when it is absorbed systemically.[7-9] Due to the risk of cardiovascular complications, routine cocaine or phenylephrine use for epistaxis may not be warranted.

Oxymetazoline spray bottleTopical oxymetazoline (generic Afrin), however, works very well for the treatment of epistaxis. Due to its dramatic vasoconstrictive effects oxymetazoline provides excellent control of nasal bleeding while simultaneously preventing its own systemic absorption, thereby preventing much cardiovascular effect. Perhaps best of all it can be purchased over-the-counter and used by the lay public to self treat bloody noses – often preventing the need to visit the doctor. A number of prospective studies have found oxymetazoline to be superior to many of the other vasoconstrictors in preventing bleeding during nasal procedures.[5, 10, 11]   Several retrospective investigations have also found oxymetazoline effective in for the emergent treatment of moderate to severe epistaxis.[12,13]

Literature overview and discussion

The traditional management for epistaxis has been nasal packing, which is quite effective.[1, 13] This may explain why the literature regarding topical vasoconstrictor therapy alone for the treatment of epistaxis is relatively small. Another explanation may be that many investigators do not feel the topic is worth conducting research studies. Regardless of the reason, only a few published studies exist – several which are reviewed below.

Katz et al prospectively compared topical lidocaine plus epinephrine vs. cocaine vs. oxymetazoline for the prevention of epistaxis in nasotracheal intubation.[5] They found that lidocaine plus epinephrine was only 29% effective, cocaine was 57% effective and oxymetazoline was 86% effective in preventing bleeding during this procedure.  The results suggest that the less expensive, lower side effect profile of oxymetazoline made it an effective if not preferred choice for prevention of epistaxis during nasal intubation.

In 1995, Krempl and Noorily reported their experience with oxymetazoline in 60 emergency and clinic patients with acute epistaxis.[13] They found that bleeding resolved in 65% of patients with topical intranasal oxymetazoline alone. Oxymetazoline plus silver nitrate cautery fixed another 18%, leaving only 17% of patients who needed nasal packing or more aggressive care. All patients with controlled bleeding (54 of 60) were sent home with the oxymetazoline spray and instructed to use it three times a day for three days. Only one case returned with recurrent epistaxis (which was easily treated with silver nitrate cautery). The authors conclude that topical intranasal oxymetazoline should be first line therapy for acute epistaxis, and that patients treated thus should be sent home with instructions to continue topical oxymetazoline for several additional days.

Doo and Johnson reported similarly high efficacy for control of posterior epistaxis (a far more serious situation) with topical intranasal oxymetazoline.[12] Of 36 patients presenting for treatment, 27 (75%) had their bleeding controlled with topical oxymetazoline alone. The authors felt these results were compelling enough to suggest an initial pharmacologic treatment of posterior epistaxis with oxymetazoline in an effort to reduce the costs and complications associated with posterior epistaxis packing and surgical ligation.

An interesting case series was reported in 2018 - Heymer et al describe their protocol for epistaxis which routinely includes 2 ml of atomized tranexamic acid, with re-dosage if bleeding occurs.[15]

Interpretation of the literature as it currently exists in 2010- Upsides and downsides:

Epistaxis is a common and messy problem that requires substantial time and resources to treat effectively.  Interestingly, a number of authors in the ENT field have noted that the majority of epistaxis can be easily controlled with a simple application of intranasal oxymetazoline  (AfrinÒ) followed by a brief period of patient applied pressure.[12, 13] This treatment method eliminates the need, discomfort, expenses and risks of nasal packing and antibiotics, and the patient can take the oxymetazoline home with them and continue treatment for a few days to prevent recurrence. Topical oxymetazoline can also be started by nursing staff upon a patient’s arrival to an ED or clinic - resulting in cessation or slowing of the bleeding before the physician sees the patient. Pretreatment of the nasal mucosa with oxymetazoline is also useful to prevent epistaxis prior to nasal procedures such as intubation, nasopharyngeal airway placement and nasogastric tube placement.[5] All these advantages come with apparently little or no reported risk in terms of drug side effects such as hypertension. 

While the data is small (more controlled trials would be helpful), the best current evidence suggests that intranasal oxymetazoline is an excellent first line therapy for epistaxis.  Given the large potential benefits and small risks, this treatment should likely be instituted in almost all emergency department and clinic patients with epistaxis. If it fails, there is little downside – cautery, packing and ENT consultation can still be obtained. If it succeeds the patients can be educated, given the medication (or told to buy it over the counter) and discharged with instructions to re-dose their nose two to three times a day for several days in an effort to prevent recurrent bleeding.

Patients who suffer recurrent bloody noses can also institute these treatment concepts at home.  By self-treating with a simple protocol (see below – use the bottle as the sprayer) most bleeding can be controlled and stopped without the need to visit a physician.

Avastin for recurrent epistaxis due to hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia

Dr. Terence Davidson, an ENT surgeon in California has conducted several small studies and has an ongoing large trial looking at the effectiveness of avastin for treating patients suffering from chronic recurrent nose bleeds due to hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia. His data to date show that nasal spray is safer than injection (no risk of septal perforation or necrosis) and effectively stops growth of excessive blood vessels, preventing nose bleeds from recurring.[14]

Tranexamic acid for treatment of epistaxis

Epistaxis can be a messy problem in the ED when traditional packing methods are used, and it is quite uncomfortable for the patient. Utilizing an atomizer along with inexpensive medications such as tranexamic acid and perhaps some oxymetazoline plus external compression makes the care of these cases much easier and more comfortable. In 2013 a novel study was published by Zahed et al where they discussed their results from an RCT comparing topical tranexamic acid (TXA) to traditional nasal packing.(16) The results were very impressive: Control of bleeding in 10 minutes 71% vs. 31%, Discharge in less than 2 hours 95% vs. 6%, rebleeding 5% vs. 11%, patient satisfaction much higher for TXA.  These results were not a fluke, following this impressive publication multiple additional studies have been published, most which have shown impressive results when compared to either nasal packing or nasal vasoconstrictors.(17-29)This is a great new treatment option for epistaxis and I suspect it will be rapidly adopted given its low cost and demonstrated efficacy for a sometimes difficult situation.


Personal insights from experienced clinicians

At the Everest base camp medical clinic, conditions are cold and hostile, nearly every case is urgent, and routine treatment we rely on in urban hospital environments is sometimes impossible to carry out.  Having the ability to administer medications intranasally, obviating the need for IV access (and thawing out of our IV fluids!) can be not only an easier and timelier solution, but downright lifesaving!  In our recent 2008 season, our staff had the opportunity to treat a brisk nosebleed patient by administering intranasal oxymetazoline and lidocaine to facilitate insertion of a posterior packing device.   We have our nasal drug delivery systems at the ready to administer midazolam, metoclopramide, glucagon, naloxone and opiates if the need arises as well. ...Luanne Freer, MD -  Medical Director of Everest Base camp, Medical Director Yellowstone N.P.

Treating a bloody nose at Everest base camp using topical oxymetazoline

Photo - topical oxymetazoline plus lidocaine to treat epistaxis at Everest Base Camp (photo compliments of Luanne Freer, MD)


Treatment protocol

2020- I need to revise this protocol, you should use atomized tranexamic acid as first line - apply much like this but probably don't need the cotton ball - just atomize and pinch. Whether adding a little oxymetazoline or lidocaine is helpful is not clear. Usually no cautery is needed.

*Download this protocol as MS word file - (click here -0.55 Mb)

Download this protocol as a PDF file (click here)

Indications: To induce vasoconstriction and stop bleeding in patients with anterior epistaxis (worth a try to slow down posterior bleeds as well)

Basic epistaxis tray materials:
  1. Tissue for patient to blow nose
  2. Bowl to capture runoff blood
  3. Gloves and mask for provider
  4. Cotton balls
  5. Medication cup
  6. Oxymetazoline bottle
  7. Atomizer (or use the bottle to spray)
  8. Clamp for nose

Epistaxis tray

  1. Provide a gown, tray and tissue paper to the patient to capture the blood.
  2. Spray oxymetazoline into a cup to soak cotton ballSquirt oxymetazoline (Afrin) spray into a medication cup so it can be easily drawn into a syringe.
  3. Aspirating oxymetazoline into a syringeDraw up 1.0 to 1.5 ml of oxymetazoline (Afrin) into a 3 cc syringe. (Option - Also draw up 0.5 ml of 4% lidocaine into the same syringe for anesthesia n case you need to use cautery).
  4. Connect the syringe to a syringe driven atomizer.
  5. Saok the cotton ball in oxymetazolinePut a cotton ball in the remaining oxymetazoline and soak the cotton ball.  (double the dose and use two cotton balls if both sides are bleeding)
  1. Blow nose to remove clots so the mucosa is bare and the medication can ge effectiveAsk the patient to blow their nose to clear all the blood clots from the nasal passage. This will clear the nasal cavity and expose the nasal mucosa so the medication is more effective.
  2. Position the patient approximately 45 degrees recumbent in the bed.
  3. Atomizing oxymetazoline far into the nostrilPlace atomizer within the affected nostril.
  4. Briskly compress syringe to administer 1-1.5 ml of atomized spray into the affected nostril. Ask them to inhale through their nose during the time you spray.
  5. Allow the patient to capture any runoff blood and solution.
  6. Inserting an oxymetzoline soaked cotton ball into the bleeding nostrilTake the cotton ball soaked with oxymetazoline and roll into cigarette shape.  Place this into the bleeding nostril.
  7. Repeat in other nostril if it is also bleeding.
  8. Tape a folded 4X4 across the nose to hold the cotton ball in place and capture blood.
  9. Sit the patient back up.
  10. Clamp nose for 15 mintues with oxymetazoline spray and soaked cotton ball inside the nostrilAsk the patient to pinch their nostrils firmly with one hand to reduce blood flow to the anterior nose. Alternatively you can clamp their nose with a pre-made nasal clamp.
  11. Wait 15 minutes.
  12. Cautery for epistaxisReturn, remove the gauze and packing, cauterize any anterior vessels that require cautery (usually not needed).
  13. If bleeding persists  obtain topical thrombin and repeat the above procedure using thrombin as the atomized spray and applying another cotton ball soaked in oxymetazoline - this gives clotting effect plus vasoconstriction.
  14. Discharge the patient with instructions to use oxymetazoline spray every 8 hours for the next 48-72 hours to maintain vasoconstriction. Forewarn them to not use the oxymetazoline for a longer period due to rebound edema problems. Instruct them to apply topical Vaseline or other appropriate material to the anterior nose twice a day to keep the mucous membrane from drying and cracking.

Download this protocol as a MS Word file - (click here 0.55 Mb)

Bibliography (click here for abstracts)

1.  Evans, J.A. and T. Rothenhaus, Epistaxis. Emedicine, 2007: p.

2.  Bent, J.P., 3rd and B.P. Wood, Complications resulting from treatment of severe posterior epistaxis. J Laryngol Otol, 1999. 113(3):252-254

3.  Monte, E.D., M.J. Belmont, and M.K. Wax, Management paradigms for posterior epistaxis: A comparison of costs and complications. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, 1999. 121(1): p.103-6

4.  Hady, M.R., K.Z. Kodeira, and A.H. Nasef, The effect of nasal packing on arterial blood gases and acid-base balance and its clinical importance. J Laryngol Otol, 1983. 97(17): p. 599-604

5.  Katz, R.I., et al., A comparison of cocaine, lidocaine with epinephrine, and oxymetazoline for prevention of epistaxis on nasotracheal intubation. J Clin Anesth, 1990. 2(1): p. 16-20

6.  Lennox, P., et al., Local anaesthesia in flexible nasendoscopy. A comparison between cocaine and co-phenylcaine. J Laryngol Otol, 1996. 110(6): p. 540-2

7.  Groudine, S.B., et al., New York State guidelines on the topical use of phenylephrine in the operating room. The Phenylephrine Advisory Committee. Anesthesiology, 2000. 92(3): p. 859-64.

8.  Greher, M., et al., Hypertension and pulmonary edema associated with subconjunctival phenylephrine in a 2-month-old child during cataract extraction. Anesthesiology, 1998. 88(5): p.1394-6

9.  Kalyanaraman, M., et al., Cardiopulmonary compromise after use of topical and submucosal alpha- agonists: possible added complication by the use of beta-blocker therapy. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, 1997. 117(1): p. 56-61.

10. O'Hanlon, J. and K.W. Harper, Epistaxis and nasotracheal intubation--prevention with vasoconstrictor spray. Ir J Med Sci, 1994. 163(2): p.58-60

11. Riegle, E.V., et al., Comparison of vasoconstrictors for functional endoscopic sinus surgery in children. Laryngoscope, 1992. 102(7): p.820-3

12. Doo, G. and D.S. Johnson, Oxymetazoline in the treatment of posterior epistaxis. Hawaii Med J, 1999. 58(8): p.210-12.

13.  Krempl, G.A. and A.D. Noorily, Use of oxymetazoline in the management of epistaxis. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol, 1995. 104(9 Pt 1): p. 704-6.

14. Chen, S. t., T. Karnezis, et al. (2011). "Safety of intranasal Bevacizumab (Avastin) treatment in patients with hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia-associated epistaxis." Laryngoscope 121(3): 644-646

15. Heymer, J., T. Schilling, et al. (2018). "Use of a mucosal atomization device for local application of tranexamic acid in epistaxis." Am J Emerg Med 36(12): 2327.

16. Zahed, R., et al., A new and rapid method for epistaxis treatment using injectable form of tranexamic acid topically: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Emerg Med, 2013. 31(9): p. 1389-92.

17. Akkan, S., et al., Evaluating Effectiveness of Nasal Compression With Tranexamic Acid Compared With Simple Nasal Compression and Merocel Packing: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Ann Emerg Med, 2019. 74(1): p. 72-78.

18. Birmingham, A.R., et al., Topical tranexamic acid for the treatment of acute epistaxis in the emergency department. Am J Emerg Med, 2018. 36(7): p. 1242-1245.

19. Gottlieb, M., J.M. DeMott, and G.D. Peksa, Topical Tranexamic Acid for the Treatment of Acute Epistaxis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Pharmacother, 2019. 53(6): p. 652-657.

20. Hassen, G.W., et al., Is topical tranexamic acid a better alternative for selected cases of anterior epistaxis management in the ED? Am J Emerg Med, 2018. 36(4): p. 734 e1-734 e2.

21. Heymer, J., T. Schilling, and D. Rapple, Use of a mucosal atomization device for local application of tranexamic acid in epistaxis. Am J Emerg Med, 2018. 36(12): p. 2327.

22. Joseph, J., et al., Tranexamic acid for patients with nasal haemorrhage (epistaxis). Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2018. 12: p. CD004328.

23. Kang, H. and S.H. Hwang, Does topical application of tranexamic acid reduce intraoperative bleeding in sinus surgery during general anesthesia? Braz J Otorhinolaryngol, 2019.

24. Logan, J.K. and H. Pantle, Role of topical tranexamic acid in the management of idiopathic anterior epistaxis in adult patients in the emergency department. Am J Health Syst Pharm, 2016. 73(21): p. 1755-1759.

25. Morgenstern, J., et al., Hot Off the Press: Topical Tranexamic Acid Compared With Anterior Nasal Packing for Treatment of Epistaxis in Patients Taking Antiplatelet Drugs. Acad Emerg Med, 2018. 25(9): p. 1062-1064.

26. Reuben, A., et al., Novel use of tranexamic acid to reduce the need for Nasal Packing in Epistaxis (NoPac) randomised controlled trial: research protocol. BMJ Open, 2019. 9(2): p. e026882.

27. Sarkar, D. and J. Martinez, Use of Atomized Intranasal Tranexamic Acid as an Adjunctive Therapy in Difficult-to-Treat Epistaxis. J Spec Oper Med, 2019. 19(2): p. 23-28.

28. Whitworth, K., J. Johnson, et al. (2020). "Comparative Effectiveness of Topically Administered Tranexamic Acid Versus Topical Oxymetazoline Spray for Achieving Hemostasis in Epistaxis." J Emerg Med 58(2): 211-216.

29. Zahed, R., et al., Topical Tranexamic Acid Compared With Anterior Nasal Packing for Treatment of Epistaxis in Patients Taking Antiplatelet Drugs: Randomized Controlled Trial. Acad Emerg Med, 2018. 25(3): p. 261-266.