When dealing with an injury that causes bleeding, you don’t have time to stop and research the best treatment options. Knowing how to stop bleeding, and when it’s better to get expert help, may help to save a life.

“The sight of blood can be a scary thing, both for the person with the injury as well as the caregiver,” said Geisinger Community Medical Center trauma surgeon Brian Frank, M.D. “If you know what to do beforehand, it will help you stay calm and make the right decisions to effectively treat the wound.”

Know how to recognize an emergency

Some wounds bleed profusely because they are located in a part of the body with a high concentration of blood vessels, but they may not be life-threatening. Other wounds may not bleed very much but should be considered a medical emergency. Knowing the difference is important.

“Any time someone has a chest, abdominal or puncture wound, you should consider it an emergency and call 911,” said Dr. Frank. “These wounds may not involve a significant amount of blood, but they can be deadly if they involve internal injuries.”

With these types of wounds, your primary job is to keep the injured person calm and safe after you have called for help. While waiting for the ambulance or emergency medical attention to arrive, have the injured person lie down with their legs slightly elevated and cover them with a blanket to keep them warm. If the object that caused a puncture wound is still embedded in the wound, do not remove it.

Stopping the bleeding

If the wound is located on the person’s arm or leg, elevate that extremity to slow the bleeding. Remove obvious dirt and debris unless the object is embedded. Clean small wounds with soap and water, but do not attempt to clean large wounds.

To stop the bleeding, use a cloth to apply pressure to the wound for 10 minutes, during which time you should not remove the cloth as it may restart the bleeding. If the cloth becomes soaked with blood, apply another clean cloth on top of the original and continue to apply pressure.

When the bleeding has stopped, adhere a clean bandage to the wound.

“You should also call a doctor if the wound is large and gaping, if it’s on the person’s head or if it’s the result of an animal bite,” said Dr. Frank. “These situations are prime for infections and complications, so getting medical care is important.”

Treating a bloody nose

Bloody noses are usually not a medical emergency. Ask the person with a bloody nose to sit and lean their head forward to slow the bleeding. Push the bleeding nostril against the septum, or the wall that separates the nostrils. Hold the nostril closed for several minutes, checking periodically to see if the bleeding has stopped.

The person with the nosebleed should not blow their nose for several days since this may loosen a clot and restart the bleeding.

“If a nosebleed is due to an injury, the person should see a doctor,” said Dr. Frank. “They may have a broken nose that needs treatment.”

Keep yourself safe

Any time you are treating a wound, it’s important that you keep yourself safe as well. If possible, you should apply latex gloves before touching someone else’s blood to avoid potential contact with illnesses and infections. After treating the wound, wash your hands well with soap and water.

“The most important thing to remember when treating a wound is to stay calm,” said Dr. Frank. “If the bleeding will not stop, maintain pressure on the wound until help arrives.”