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Why does my 16-month-old wake with a bloody nose?
Q: I have a 16-month-old boy. When he wakes up, his pillow and mattress are spotted with blood from his nose. Why does this happen and how can I prevent it from happening?
A: Cris, nosebleeds are common in young children. Although it may look scary, nosebleeds usually involve only a small amount of blood and are not dangerous. Children’s noses are lined by a delicate mucous membrane with many tiny blood vessels near the surface. Any irritation or injury to the nose can cause a nosebleed. Some children are more susceptible to nosebleeds, and the tendency can run in the family. Most children outgrow the tendency for nosebleeds later in childhood.

The most common causes of repeated nosebleeds are:
  • Allergies: Does your son have a continual runny, congested, or itchy nose; swollen, itchy eyes with dark circles underneath; or frequent sneezing? Discuss the possibility of allergies with your doctor. Your son might be allergic to something in his bedroom, such as dust mites in his mattress, pillow, or carpet. A dust mite-proof cover for the mattress and pillow and removing the carpet in his room may help. Also ask the doctor whether allergy medication might be helpful.

  • Dry air: Is the air in your house very dry, or do you keep the heat high in the winter? Your son’s nasal tissues may be dried and cracking. Saline (salt water) nose drops, dabs of petroleum jelly in each nostril, or a cold air humidifier might help.

  • Picking the nose: Have you seen your son pick his nose? Children often pick their noses when their nose itches because of irritation from allergies or dry air, or sometimes just because they’re exploring their bodies. Try putting your son to bed with socks on his hands so he can’t pick his nose.
If your son continues to have nosebleeds, be sure to discuss this with the doctor. The doctor will check your son’s nose for abnormal blood vessels, polyps, or a small object that your child may have put up his nose. If there are any concerns, she may refer you to an ear-nose-throat specialist. Rarely, children can be born with or develop problems with blood clotting, and the doctor may do a blood test to check for these conditions.