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Sometimes in visual media the writers need to indicate a character is dying or severely injured or sick, but often without any actual visible trauma. So how do they do it?

With a deadly nosebleed, of course! A character who is dying from something invisible, from sonic weapons to stress from time travel will often sport a nosebleed as a visual clue to the audience that this character is not well, and is probably going to die. This may also include blood from the ears or even eyes as it progresses. A character who has just received massive physical trauma, but has no visible injuries, or who is about to die from an illness or medical condition may also sport a nosebleed.

Recurring nosebleeds, especially when they are Psychic Nosebleeds, can indicate cumulative damage, particularly to the brain.

This convention may come from people with extremely high blood pressure developing nosebleeds or from people about to suffer from a stroke suffering spontaneous nosebleeds. It can also be a real side effect of radiation poisoning.

See Nosebleed for when nosebleeds are brought on by physical arousal (usually Played for Laughs) and Psychic Nosebleed, a sign of intense psychic effort. May overlap with the related Blood From the Mouth.

Examples of Deadly Nosebleed include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books


  • As the main character in The Butterfly Effect did more time travel, he started to have nosebleeds, indicating the brain damage he was taking from doing it.
  • While it did show her other injuries, in Pan's Labyrinth, Ophelia has one right after she gets shot.
  • The first Iron Man movie has Obadiah using a hand-held paralyzer. It causes paralysis, blue veins to appear, and blood from the nose.
  • An overlap with Psychic Nosebleed occurs in The Film of the Book Firestarter by Stephen King. Charlie's dad, the more he uses "The Push", causes himself pinpoint brain hemorrhages that cause nosebleeds.
  • Primer has bleeding from the ears as a symptom of sickness from time travel.
  • Gandalf sports one of these during his battle against the Balrog in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings.
  • In Heroic Trio one of the indications that a character's boyfriend is dying from radiation exposure is that he has increasing nosebleeds.


  • In Enemy Lines I - Rebel Dream, an unwilling spy for the Yuuzhan Vong, Tam Elgrin, is subject to a variation. Elgrin had been captured previously by the Yuuzhan Vong, and was released with a biological implant. Failure to comply with his given orders (or even thinking about betraying the Yuuzhan Vong) triggered the implant, delivering intense headaches which would eventually reach lethal levels if he continued to resist. The first obvious outward sign is a nosebleed, though other signs soon manifest themselves. At the end of the book, he chooses to let the implant kill him rather than follow orders to kidnap Jaina Solo. He's saved from death before the implant can kill him.
  • In Darkness Visible the first outward sign that Lewis has made too many ventures at Wandsworth Prison is a nose bleed. When he pushes his luck even further in Hyde Park he not only gets another nose bleed but also starts crying blood.

Live Action TV

  • In Firefly, the first indication that the Blue Hands' weapon is deadly is a nosebleed. This is followed rapidly by eye and ear bleeding and screams of agony.
    • It is officially stated to cause bleeding from every orifice on the body.
  • In Lost, characters suffering the ill effects of time travel start sporting nosebleeds shortly before they die. Nose and ear bleeds are also a visible symptom of trying to cross the sonic fence around the Other's compound.
  • Michael Scofield in Prison Break has a recurring and ultimately terminal medical condition that sometimes manifests as nosebleeds.
  • Heroes: Charlie's brain tumor's main symptom is a nosebleed.
  • In an episode of Fringe, the first symptom of a strange and deadly virus is a nosebleed. The writers obviously like this trope - if you have anything vaguely wrong with you, chances are you'll have a deadly nosebleed
  • Episode 3-6 of Six Feet Under starts with a woman dying from a nosebleed while in line to attend a TV show taping.
  • Used in the third season of 24 to show the symptoms of the cordilla virus.
  • This is the only visible symptom of Scully's cancer in The X-Files.
  • This UK Public Service Announcement on the dangers to talking on a cellphone while driving.
  • The League of Gentlemen

Video Games

  • First person shooters with status bar faces (Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Quake, you name it) almost always have these when the player character is injured.
  • Enemies in Quake II display injuries (mostly this) as a sign that their health is lower than half.
  • Heavy Rain: Norman Jayden tends to get nosebleeds quite frequently as the game progresses, and when he does, it's always indicative that he is going into withdrawal.

Real Life

  • Atilla the Hun died of a nosebleed. Whether he literally died from the nosebleed (i.e. choking on his own blood in a drunken stupor) or if it were just a symptom of something more serious internally is up to debate.
  • There are said to be certain techniques in Kung-fu that can induce death from bleeding out of seven orifices (eyes, mouth, ears, and nose).
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