The Strangest Beliefs About Nosebleeds In History, Because Getting Your Period Is Basically The Same Thing, Right?
Many of us have suffered from a nosebleed at some point in our lives; they're very common but not actually serious in most cases. An epistaxis, as they're known in medical terms, is usually caused by damage to one of the blood vessels in the nose, and it's been happening to humans for centuries. As humans are inclined to do, we've been a little creative as a species when it comes to dealing with nasal bleeding; moss from corpses, dried-up Egyptian mummies, and live toads have all been used in the pursuit of a nosebleed-free life, though they probably brought along their own attendant issues.
Nosebleeds have seen a variety of medical attitudes across the ages, from discomforting condition to accompaniment to a girl's first period to remedy for bodily imbalances. Not everybody viewed them as nuisances, though considering what some historical civilizations got up to, you might wish they did. (In case you're wondering, these days, medical opinion recommends that if you get a nosebleed you lean forward to drain the blood down your nose, not back so that it goes down your throat. The more you know!)
Here are some of the most bizarre incidents in the history of nosebleeds, because evidently humans can't actually be trusted with the noses on their own faces.
That A Bleeding Nose Was A Sign Of Fertility And Anger
Ancient Egyptian thought had some interesting opinions about nosebleeds and their mythical and medicinal significance. One of the more fascinating comes to us from the Kahun Papyrus, a gynecological text dating to 1800 years BC that discusses many of the aspects of childbirth and pregnancy held in medical thought at the time; and nosebleeds, it turns out, were seen as a kind of magical indicator of fertility. The text is incomplete, but there's a spell in it that seems to try to bring on nosebleeds. If the woman's nose does bleed, she'll get pregnant; if not, she'll always be childless.
Nosebleeds were also seen as demonstrations of extreme emotion in Egyptian myth; the god Set, for example, was portrayed as developing a nosebleed when he was particularly angry. This is actually a theme in several cultures, including modern Japan, where nosebleeds in certain manga cartoons indicate sudden, uncontrollable sexual attraction.
That Nosebleeds And Periods Were The Same Thing
Some of the ancient Greeks, writing on the anatomy of women, held that vaginas and nostrils were basically the same thing, with the belief that the female body contained a "tube" that reached from the nose to the nethers. Consequently the emission of blood from one end was seen as basically the same as it coming out the other side, so menstrual bleeding and nosebleeds were seen as virtually equivalent.
A text called the Aphorisms, supposedly by the Greek physician Hippocrates, links up a girl's first period and the likelihood of a nosebleed, declaring this to be a favorable sign of health in certain circumstances. He also declared that "a nosebleed is a good thing if the menstrual period is suppressed," operating on the belief that if the blood couldn't get out the traditional way, it was equally as valid if it traveled out of the nose or mouth.
That The Ashes Of Tadpoles Would Help
You know I'm not going to talk about remedies in ancient Rome without discussing the wonders of Pliny The Elder. His Natural Histories contain many suggestions and ideas for stopping a nosebleed, some of which are more benign than others. One, for instance, involved making a plug out of pounded chives, mint, and nutgalls, which may have contained tannic acid. Another practical tip recommended rubbing the limbs with bits of sheep's fleece. The craziest was his idea that stuffing the nostrils with the burned-up ashes of tadpoles might prove to be a valid solution. Tasty.
That A Bleeding Nose Could Be Medicinal
The Greek medical authorities and those who followed their teachings, all the way to the Renaissance and beyond, didn't necessarily view nosebleeds as a bad thing, and were occasionally inclined to induce one for medical reasons. The basis for this vaguely messy idea was the notion that the body's health was determined by its levels of "humors," of which blood was one. However, blood had the most crucial role, because it was the vehicle that carried the other humors (phlegm and black and yellow bile) around the body. Consequently, if you wanted to balance out humors in an ill patient, bloodletting was a valid practice, and helped keep your blood levels under control. A doctor in the 1700s, following this doctrine, wrote that putting leeches on the interior surface of the nostrils to fix rampant uncontrollable nosebleeds was remarkably useful.
Bleeding the body to heal nosebleeds was part of the idea. Medieval doctors in Europe who were using humoral theory reported faithfully that intense nosebleeds and other kinds of uncontrollable bleeding (after childbirth, for instance) were stopped when a doctor let out blood from somewhere else.
That The Moss Of Corpse Skulls Could Cure A Nosebleed
The history of nosebleeds has an extremely gory sideline. At various points in history, a particular substance called "usnea" was reported to be the best possible cure for nosebleeds. The problem for anybody with a delicate stomach was that usnea was a type of moss that grew over the skulls of improperly buried corpses. You stuffed the moss up your nose and were ready to go. Still with me? Good.
Usnea's popularity flourished in the Middle Ages, along with other fantastical cures; an article on medical history from 1996 notes that powdered Egyptian mummy was meant to be a nosebleed remedy too, though historians have reported that genuine Egyptian mummy was likely thin on the ground and a significant array of fraudulent substitutes were on the market. And they were inventive about procuring their items, too. The English philosopher Francis Bacon suggested, just before his own death in 1626, that a likely good source of usnea was Irish corpses, many of whom were still in "heaps" on the countryside after a series of wars.
That A Physician Should Make You Personal Nose Blood-Snuff
Usnea wasn't the only substance that involved bodily fluids being applied to the body for nosebleed cures. A book written by an Italian humanist in the 1550s and called, fittingly, The Secrets recommended that a person suffering from a nosebleed could be treated by collecting the blood, burning it on an iron plate, making it into power and then putting it up the person's nose again. It wasn't just a one-off, either; it showed up again in the 1700s, as a French doctor named Moncrief advocated frying off the blood and making it into personal snuff. Snuff was, at the time, the height of fashion, a fine-ground tobacco substance designed to be sniffed for enjoyment, so this wouldn't have been entirely out of character for any of the good doctor's patients.
That Keys, Toads, And Seaweed On Your Head Could Help
Folk medicine across Europe and America has provided some truly spectacular potential nosebleed cures across the centuries; any person with a grandmother will likely have experienced at least one. A compendium of English folklore, for instance, found that 19th century sufferers were often told to drop a key down their backs on a string; but that paled in comparison to some advice found in a book from around 1600, which recommended a toad worn around the neck. (Alive or dead? Not sure.)
And an encyclopedia of modern and medieval folk medicine reports everything from a suggestion of green seaweed on the temples (from the 19th century) to putting the algae from pond scum on the neck and leaving it to dry, or stuffing fresh pig poo up the nose (both more modern ideas). Tipping your head down and waiting for the bleeding to stop looks a bit more convenient now, right?