What is a broken nose?
A broken nose is a fracture in the bone or cartilage of any part of the nose. A broken nose is usually the result of some type of trauma or blow to the face. A broken nose sometimes occurs together with other injuries to the face or neck. For this reason, individuals who sustain a broken nose need to be careful evaluation by a qualified health professional.
Anyone can break his or her nose, and it is a commonly seen injury in people who participate in contact sports. A broken nose may be apparent due to obvious deformity of the nose. It is important not to try to realign any deformity yourself after an injury.
A broken nose is one of the most common types of traumatic injuries and many cases heal without long-term or severe complications. However, a severe break can be serious, and surgery is sometimes required to repair the break and to return the nose to its original shape.
A broken nose is usually accompanied by bleeding, which can be difficult to stop. Failure to identify and promptly drain a pocket of blood (hematoma) that is inside the nasal septum after a broken nose can result in tissue damage and the need for extensive reconstructive surgery.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as clear fluid continually leaking from a broken nose, a large amount of bleeding that will not stop, confusion, unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, or a neck injury.
Seek prompt medical care if you suspect a broken nose but you do not have serious symptoms.
What are the symptoms of a broken nose?
Symptoms of a broken nose include a bloody nose, pain in your nose, bruising in and around the nose, a crooked shape to your nose, and the swelling of your nose and the area around your nose.
More serious symptoms of a severe break can include leakage of cerebrospinal fluid if the fracture is extended into the ethmoid bone of the face. If the cartilage in the septum of the nose is damaged, the formation of a blood clot that could lead to further damage if not treated promptly.
Because some sort of trauma usually causes a broken nose, broken noses are often associated with midface, neck or head injuries, which can be very serious and require immediate medical care.
Common symptoms of a broken nose
You may experience some broken nose symptoms immediately after it is injured; some symptoms may begin to appear a day or two later. While they can seem severe, any of these broken nose symptoms are common:
- Bloody nose
- Crooked nose or change in the shape of your nose
- Difficulty breathing through the nose
- Pain in your nose
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, a broken nose can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms:
- Abnormal pupil size or pupils that do not react to light changes
- Clear fluid steadily draining from your nose
- Confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment
- Decreased vision
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty with memory, thinking, talking, comprehension, writing or reading
- Double vision (orbital fracture with entrapment)
- Heavy bleeding that will not stop
What causes a broken nose?
A broken nose is almost always caused by some sort of impact to the face. Although your nose is flexible, a strong enough impact can tear the cartilage in your nose or fracture the bones in or around your nose. A football or basketball that hits you in the face with enough force can very easily break your nose. A broken nose can also result from a car accident or any other situation in which something may impact your face as a result of rapid acceleration or deceleration.
What are the risk factors for a broken nose?
The main risk factor for a broken nose is participation in sports, especially contact sports or motorsports.
Reducing your risk of broken nose
A broken nose can result from almost any kind of accident, and there is no way to completely prevent a broken nose. However, there are ways that you can reduce your risk of a broken nose, especially if you engage in activities that increase your risk for the injury.
You may be able to lower your risk of a broken nose by:
- Wearing a helmet at all times when engaged in motorsport activities
- Wearing your seatbelt any time you are in a car
- Wearing a protective face mask when you participate in certain sports, such as hockey or lacrosse
How is a broken nose treated?
A broken nose can be treated in several different ways depending on the location and severity of the break. Pain relievers are a part of almost all treatment plans, as pain occurs with almost all broken noses. Icing your broken nose and the surrounding area is also an important part of immediate treatment.
If the shape of your nose has been affected, surgery may be required to correct this. In severe nose fractures that result in a blood clot or that leave an opening into the space within your skull, immediate surgery may be required.
Treatment for a broken nose
Treatment for a broken nose includes relieving the pain using pain relievers and reducing the swelling of or around your nose using cold compresses. Surgery may be required to realign the nose or to fix damage to important structures deeper in the nose. Treatments include:
Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) are often prescribed for reducing the pain associated with a broken nose
If you have a more seriously broken nose and have severely damaged areas inside your nose, like the nasal septum or cribiform plate, you may need more immediate surgery
If your nose has been misaligned, your physician may recommend surgery to correct this, though often you must wait a week to 10 days for swelling to resolve before the nose can be repaired
You may be asked to apply cold compresses on a regular basis to decrease the swelling that is associated with a broken nose
What you can do to improve your broken nose
If you suspect a broken nose but do not have serious symptoms, you can perform a variety of treatments until you can contact your health care provider. Such first-aid treatments include:
Icing the nose or the immediately affected area to reduce swelling, though it is important not to apply too much pressure to a broken nose
Sitting up rather than lying down may help to reduce or stop the bleeding
Taking over-the-counter pain medication, like acetaminophen (Tylenol), can be effective at reducing the pain associated with a broken nose
What are the potential complications of a broken nose?
Though a broken nose is a common injury, it can be associated with a variety of complications that range from very mild to more severe.
You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of broken nose include:
Change in the shape of your nose
Damage to other nearby structures, such as your eyes
Decrease in or impairment of your sense of smell
Formation of a blood clot, which may lead to tissue damage
Infections of tissue near your nose