Interventions for recurrent nosebleeds of unknown cause in children

Nosebleeds in children usually just stop by themselves or after pinching the nose. However, some children get repeated nosebleeds with no specific cause (recurrent idiopathic epistaxis). The most common treatments are cautery or antiseptic cream, or both. Cautery (a method of sealing) can be painful even with local anaesthetic, and usually involves using a silver nitrate stick to seal off a visible blood vessel inside the nose that may be rupturing. Other options include ointments and nasal sprays. The review of trials found that there is not enough evidence to compare the effectiveness of different treatment options, however using a lower concentration of silver nitrate cautery is more effective in the short term and less painful. More research is needed to show the best options for reducing recurrent nosebleeds of unknown cause in children.

Authors' conclusions: 

The optimal management of children with recurrent idiopathic epistaxis is unknown, however if silver nitrate nasal cautery is undertaken 75% is preferable to 95% as it is more effective in the short term and causes less pain. High-quality randomised controlled trials comparing interventions either with placebo or no treatment, and with a follow-up period of at least a year, are needed to assess the relative merits of the various treatments currently in use.

Read the full abstract...

Recurrent idiopathic epistaxis (nosebleeds) in children is repeated nasal bleeding in patients up to the age of 16 for which no specific cause has been identified. Although nosebleeds are very common in children, and most cases are self limiting or settle with simple measures (such as pinching the nose), more severe recurrent cases can require treatment from a healthcare professional. However, there is no consensus on the effectiveness of the different clinical interventions currently used in managing this condition.


To assess the effects of different interventions for the management of recurrent idiopathic epistaxis in children.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders Group Trials Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); PubMed; EMBASE; CINAHL; Web of Science; BIOSIS Previews; Cambridge Scientific Abstracts; ICTRP and additional sources for published and unpublished trials. The date of the most recent search was 5 March 2012.

Selection criteria: 

We identified all randomised controlled trials (RCTs) (with or without blinding) in which any surgical or medical intervention for the treatment of recurrent idiopathic epistaxis in children was evaluated in comparison with either no treatment, a placebo or another intervention, and in which the frequency and severity of episodes of nasal bleeding following treatment was stated or calculable. The two authors reviewed the full-text articles of all retrieved trials of possible relevance and applied the inclusion criteria independently.

Data collection and analysis: 

We graded trials for risk of bias using the Cochrane approach. One author performed data extraction in a standardised manner and this was rechecked by the other author. Where necessary we contacted investigators to obtain missing information. We did not undertake a meta-analysis because of the heterogeneity of the treatments, procedures and quality of the included trials. A narrative overview of the results is therefore presented.

Main results: 

Five studies (four RCTs and one quasi-randomised controlled trial) involving 468 participants satisfied the inclusion criteria. The identified RCTs compared 0.5% neomycin + 0.1% chlorhexidine (Naseptin®) cream with no treatment, Vaseline® petroleum jelly with no treatment, 75% with 95% silver nitrate nasal cautery, and silver nitrate cautery combined with Naseptin® against Naseptin® alone; the quasi-randomised controlled trial compared Naseptin® antiseptic cream with silver nitrate cautery. Overall results were inconclusive, with no statistically significant difference found between the compared treatments upon completion of the trials, however 75% silver nitrate was more effective than 95% silver nitrate at two weeks following application. The group treated with 75% silver nitrate had 88% complete resolution of epistaxis compared to 65% in the group treated with 95% silver nitrate (P = 0.01). No serious adverse effects were reported from any of the interventions, although children receiving silver nitrate cautery reported that it was a painful experience (despite the use of local anaesthetic). The pain scores were significantly less in those treated with 75% silver nitrate, the mean score being 1 compared to a mean score of 5 in those treated with 95% silver nitrate; this was statistically significant (P = 0.001).

We carried out a 'Risk of bias' assessment of each study according to the Cochrane methodology and judged that two randomised controlled trials had a low risk of bias, two had an unclear risk of bias and the quasi-randomised controlled trial had a high risk of bias.