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How to Use Cold Keys to Stop Your Nosebleed

A cold pack or holding cold keys against the back of the neck may stop your nosebleed. Nuns and teachers have been using this trick for years.

Nosebleeds are common, messy and embarrassing. No one likes to drip blood all over everything. Your first reaction might be to try to stop the blood with a handful of paper tissues, but that doesn’t always (or often) work. What else can you do to stop your nosebleed?

Children are especially prone to nosebleeds, perhaps because they are also more likely to pick their noses. Other causes include dry air, a blow to the nose, frequent sneezing or high blood pressure.

Some doctors recommend blowing the nose to clear out the clots and then applying pressure by pinching the nose shut for 10 to 15 minutes. Others suggest an ice pack over the bridge of the nose. Many readers are enthusiastic about an old-fashioned remedy: something cold on the back of the neck.

Stop Your Nosebleed with Cold Keys:

Q. I am a teacher and students in my room get frequent nosebleeds. Our school nurse drops her keys down the backs of these students and it works perfectly! I have even done it in the classroom to avoid disruptions. It has worked every time.

A. Thank you for the reminder. Putting cold keys against the back of the neck is an old-time remedy to stop your nosebleed. We’ve heard from many teachers that they have used this trick.

Here is what another reader had to say:

“I have suffered from nosebleeds since I was four years old. Dry air or blowing too hard would trigger one.

“I read that car keys down the neck would stop bleeding. This morning I had a chance to try this remedy. I blew my nose and immediately noticed blood. I quickly grabbed a bunch of keys and tapped them on my neck for about two minutes. Within one minute, there was no more bleeding. I suffer from very bad nosebleeds, so this information is VERY helpful.”

We heard this story more than a decade ago:

“A few years ago, a co-worker developed a major nosebleed. I tried ice and pressure to no avail. The bleeding had me worried.

“A co-worker stopped and asked, ‘Where are your car keys?’ The person with the nosebleed handed her his huge key ring and she loosened his shirt and dropped the keys down his back. Within 30 seconds the bleeding stopped! Her grandmother had used this method for years.”

As far as we can tell, there are no clinical trials involving keys or other cold object on the back of the neck for nosebleeds. On the other hand, there are testimonials that make it clear this remedy has been popular for more than 50 years. (Modern car keys clad in plastic are probably less effective for this remedy than old-fashioned metal keys.)

One person told us:

“I’m 51 years old and remember keys stopping a nosebleed. A college student who lived next door to us when I was in elementary school had some pretty severe bleeds. Car keys would always do the trick!”

A professor emerita in early childhood education shared her experience:

“I was teaching in a rural school in south Georgia in a 4-pod classroom with 120 first graders and four teachers. Kids played hard in the heat and humidity and many children came in with nosebleeds.

“I used the old methods of squeezing their nostrils and having them hold their heads back or putting ice on the backs of their necks to try to stop the bleeding. One day an elderly custodian who had lived in the south all her life took out her car keys, asked for some string to tie through the key ring, placed the string around the neck of the child with the nosebleed and dropped the keys down the child’s back under her shirt. That nosebleed was no longer a frightening problem!

“The only difference from your story was the string. I treated nosebleeds this way and never had a problem again. That’s 120 first graders a year for 15 years, which sounds like a pretty big number to me!”

Keys are not the only metal objects used to stop nosebleeds:

“When I was a young boy, my nose would start to bleed at least once a week. To stop the bleeding, my mother would take a butter knife, which she kept in the freezer, and place the flat part on my back just below my neck. My nose stopped bleeding almost instantly.

“My sister now keeps a butter knife in her freezer to stop her 10-year-old’s nosebleeds. We learned this method from my father’s grandmother, who had an incredible knowledge of home remedies.”

Other people have found a different approach to stop your nosebleed is also helpful. We heard from a reader who prefers a wet washcloth.

Cold Wet Washcloth on the Back of the Neck:

Q. You’ve written about cold keys on the back of the neck for nosebleeds. I never tried keys, but a cold wet washcloth on the back of the neck works. One of my nephews had a lot of nosebleeds when he was little, and it always worked for him.

Last year, I was coaching 5th grade basketball when one of the kids got a bloody nose. I didn’t have a washcloth, so I used wet paper towels. His nose stopped bleeding almost instantly.

A. Many readers agree with you despite the disapproval of medical experts (Clinical Otolaryngology and Allied Sciences, Dec. 2003).  We suspect that the cold triggers blood vessel constriction. Not all research supports this, but a German study found that an ice collar reduces blood flow to the nasal septum (American Journal of Rhinology, Jul-Aug. 2006). Depending on the nosebleed, this would probably help in some cases.

Occasionally, people use a package of frozen peas or ice instead. That might work better in these days when so many keys are encased in plastic.

How to Stop Your Nosebleed with Keys or Frozen Peas:

Q. I’ve been prone to nosebleeds most of my adult life. I’m 62 now, and I can’t remember when it started.

They seem to be most prevalent in spring and fall. Is there anything I can do to reduce the likelihood of these incidents? Also, is there a way to shut them off quickly? (The worst ones take me 15 minutes or more to stop.)

A. Keeping the nasal passages from drying out may help prevent nosebleeds. Saline sprays are safer than petroleum jelly for this purpose. You might also find that using sterile saline solution in a neti pot to wash out the nasal passages as few times weekly would be helpful if the nosebleeds are related to spring and fall allergies. A neti pot looks like an Aladdin’s lamp, but is part of traditional Indian medical practice. The water is poured into one nostril and runs out the other.

That is for prevention. To stop your nosebleed, readers may reach into the freezer.

Help from an Ice Pack:

“Years ago, I was serving lunch to some seniors. One woman started bleeding from her nose. She picked up her table knife and seemed to be stabbing herself in the back of the neck. A man across from her exclaimed, ‘Cold! She needs something cold!’

“I went into the kitchen, grabbed a large cloth, filled it with crushed ice and placed it on the back of her neck. In seconds her nosebleed stopped completely.”

Readers’ Stories About Using Keys to Stop Your Nosebleed:

Other readers have had this experience as well:

Q. Last week I developed a nosebleed that would not quit. After a couple days I went to an ear, nose and throat specialist. Even after following his advice, though, the nosebleed persisted.

After five days, I was finally fed up and checked your book for home remedies. I am a scientist, so I like solid evidence for everything I try, but I was desperate enough to try just about anything.

I found your suggestion to drop a bunch of keys down the back of my neck. To my amazement, the nosebleed stopped within a few minutes and has not returned.

A. We have heard from many readers that this home remedy can resolve a nosebleed quickly. Nuns and teachers who have dealt with a lot of children often testify to the usefulness of this approach.

Rhonda remarked:

“As a teacher for over 30 years , I can attest to the fact that this REALLY works! My children thought I was a magician! Thanks for you help! Kids get lots of nosebleeds!”

Tammy said:

“Anything cold will work. I’ve had success using ice packs, keys, a large metal kitchen serving spoon. Stops my nosebleeds within a couple of minutes. I get best results when the cold object lies against my back between my shoulder blades, or slightly lower.”

JoAnn explained:

“I am often subject to nosebleeds. Some years ago, at a friend’s house, one started, and wouldn’t stop – I must have used half a box of tissues. My friend’s husband came in with ice cubes wrapped in a wash cloth, and put it on the back of my neck. Within minutes the bleeding stopped. He explained that the cold makes your blood thicken, giving it time to coagulate. I have used this several times – sometimes I just go to the freezer and take out a pack of frozen vegetables and put it on the back of my neck.”

We are not sure that explanation is correct. Here is another possible explanation that a reader elicited:

Q. When I was a kid, I would get very bad nosebleeds. If nothing else worked, my mother would get out her keys and drop them down the back of my neck. I wish I knew why it worked it worked so well.

A. We have heard from many people who have had success stopping nosebleeds with keys or a cold butter knife against the back of the neck. However, we don’t really know why this trick works.

One reader offered the following from his experience as a medic doing water rescue:

“The keys work because of the mammalian dive reflex. Cold hits the nerves in the neck, causing the blood vessels to constrict. You might notice your pulse slowing too.

“The dive reflex is why cold-water drowning victims are not usually pronounced dead until they are ‘warm and dead.’ Cold water only in the face/head area shunts blood to the organs and away from the skin and slows the metabolism for survival. The vital signs are often too weak to detect.”

This hypothesis sounds plausible to us. We can’t offer a better one. If you try this remedy to stop your nosebleed, please let us know whether it works for you.

If such old-fashioned home remedies don’t work, you might look for a drugstore product to stop your nosebleed. WoundSeal contains hydrophilic polymer powder and potassium salt. In one study, it stopped a nosebleed in less than a minute for most patients.

If a home remedy or over-the-counter medicine doesn’t work promptly, medical attention is essential. Prolonged bleeding (more than 15 to 20 minutes) calls for a trip to urgent care or the emergency room.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Teymoortash A et al, "Efficacy of ice packs in the management of epistaxis." Clinical Otolaryngology and Allied Sciences, Dec. 2003. DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2273.2003.00773.x
  • Scheibe M et al, "Studies on the effects of ice collars on nasal blood volume using optical rhinometry." American Journal of Rhinology, Jul-Aug. 2006. DOI: 10.2500/ajr.2006.20.2883
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