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ESSENTIALS OF DIAGNOSIS

ESSENTIALS OF DIAGNOSIS

  • Bleeding from a unilateral anterior nasal cavity along the septum is most common.

  • Most cases may be successfully treated by direct pressure on the bleeding site for 15 minutes. When this is inadequate, topical sympathomimetics and various nasal tamponade methods are usually effective.

  • Posterior, bilateral, or large-volume epistaxis should be triaged immediately to a specialist in a critical care setting.

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

Epistaxis is an extremely common problem in the primary care setting. Bleeding is most common in the anterior septum where a confluence of veins creates a superficial venous plexus (Kiesselbach plexus). Predisposing factors include nasal trauma (nose picking, foreign bodies, forceful nose blowing), rhinitis, nasal mucosal drying from low humidity or supplemental nasal oxygen, deviation of the nasal septum, atherosclerotic disease, hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (Osler-Weber-Rendu syndrome), inhaled nasal cocaine (or other drugs), and alcohol abuse. Poorly controlled hypertension is associated with epistaxis. Anticoagulation or antiplatelet medications may be associated with a higher incidence, more frequent recurrence, and greater difficulty in control of epistaxis, but they do not cause it.

CLINICAL FINDINGS

Laboratory assessment of bleeding parameters may be indicated, especially in recurrent epistaxis. Once the acute episode has passed, careful examination of the nose and paranasal sinuses is indicated to rule out neoplasia and hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia. Repeated evaluation for diagnosis and treatment of clinically significant hypertension should be performed following control of epistaxis and removal of any packing.

TREATMENT

Most cases of anterior epistaxis may be successfully treated by direct pressure on the site by compression of the nares continuously for 15 minutes (eFigure 8–4). Venous pressure is reduced in the sitting position, and slight leaning forward. Positioning the head backwards is not recommended because this may result in blood going toward the airway, resulting in possible aspiration. Similarly, pinching the bridge of the nose is generally ineffective as the origin of bleeding typically occurs at the tip. Short-acting topical nasal decongestants (eg, phenylephrine, 0.125–1% solution, one or two sprays or oxymetazoline), which act as vasoconstrictors, may also help. When the bleeding does not readily subside, the nose should be examined, using good illumination and suction, in an attempt to locate the bleeding site. When directly visible, the bleeding site may be cauterized with silver nitrate, diathermy, or electrocautery. A supplemental patch of Surgicel or Gelfoam may be helpful with a moisture barrier, such as petroleum-based ointment, to prevent drying and crusting.

eFigure 8–4.

Anatomy of the nasal cavity, showing the location of the blood supply to the nasal septum. (Reproduced with permission from Chesnutt MS et al. Office & Bedside Procedures. Appleton & Lange: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.; 1992.)

Occasionally, a site of bleeding may be inaccessible to direct ...

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