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Have you ever wondered why we used to tilt our heads back for nosebleeds, but now tilt forward? It turns out that the answer lies in the science behind nosebleeds and how our understanding of them has evolved over time.

The old advice was to tilt your head back when you had a nosebleed because it was thought that this would stop the flow of blood. The logic behind this was that if you tilted your head back, gravity would pull the blood away from your nose and down your throat, where it would be swallowed instead of dripping out of your nose.

However, this is not how it actually works. When you have a nosebleed, gravity does not pull the blood down your throat—it simply pools in the back of your throat as well as in your nostrils. Tilting your head backwards can actually cause more blood to run down into your throat, making it more likely that you’ll choke on it or vomit.

In addition, tilting backwards can increase blood pressure in the veins in your nose and make the bleeding worse. That’s why doctors now recommend tilting forward when you have a nosebleed. This allows gravity to work with you by helping to drain the pooled blood out of your nostrils instead of pooling further in the back of your throat or causing increased pressure in the veins and making bleeding worse.

By understanding more about how our bodies work and how gravity affects us during a nosebleed, we can now use a much more effective technique for managing them: tilting forward instead of backwards.

Conclusion

It is important for individuals experiencing nosebleeds to understand why we have shifted from tilting backwards to forwards when treating them. The reasoning is due to anatomy and physiology and focused on patient safety. By keeping our heads tilted forwards during a bleed we reduce the likelihood of having blood enter our digestive system which can cause nausea and vomiting.

You can learn more about basic first aid, including the control of nosebleeds, in one of our American Heart Association Heartsaver courses.

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