In case you weren’t familiar with it, the nose is a useful organ that sits roughly in the middle of your face. It comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some noses precede their owners into a room, while others are small and unobtrusive. Some noses are very good at sniffing out smells, while others are less adept at detecting odors.
Being a protrusion in the middle of your face, noses are also prone to injury. In fact, broken noses account for almost half of all facial bone injuries. In children, the most common causes of a broken nose are accidents during play or sports; in adults, sports and physical altercations are the most common reasons, with falls and motor vehicle accidents next on the list. So, here’s what you should know the next time you bump your snout.
How Do I Know If It’s Broken?
If your nose is pointing 90 degrees from where it used to point, you know it’s probably broken. However, some times it can be difficult to tell the difference between a bruised and unhappy nose, and one that is actually fractured. A nasal fracture can involve either the bone, typically the one along the bridge of your nose, and/or the cartilage, including your nasal septum (the wall dividing your two nostrils).
A visit to your doctor will be able to tell whether your nose is broken with a physical examination. This might involve a little poking and prodding, so your doctor may provide a local anesthetic to make the exam a more comfortable for you. You may be referred for medical imaging, such as an X-ray or CT scan, though these are typically used to assess other facial injuries rather than specifically for your nose.
However, before you even get to your appointment, you may already suspect that you have a crack in your honker. Symptoms of a broken nose include:
- Pain (typically a lot)
- Distortion of your usual nose shape
- Swelling around the nose and surrounding face
- Bruising of the nose and eyes (black eye)
- Nose bleed
- Difficulty breathing through the nose, whether from one nostril or both
Depending on what other injuries you may have sustained alongside your suspected broken nose, you may need to see a doctor immediately. In the case of other head or neck trauma, your nose may be the last on your list of medical worries. It can be difficult to know whether any other facial structures have been damaged, so if you’re unsure about the true extent of your injuries, don’t hesitate to see a doctor straightaway. However, if you’re pretty sure everything else is okay and your nose is the only casualty, aim to see a doctor within the week for a proper diagnosis and management. If there’s a lot of swelling, your doctor may ask you to return a few days after the swelling has gone down, so that he or she can properly assess the damage.
Broken Nose First Aid
Whatever you do, don’t try to crack your own nose back into position – leave that to Hollywood. If you’re confident that you don’t need immediate medical attention, you can provide your own broken nose first aid at home.
- In the case of a nose bleed, sit down and tilt your head slightly forward to avoid the blood draining down the back of your throat. Breathe through your mouth.
- Apply ice wrapped in a cloth (to avoid frostbite to your already suffering nose) or a cold compress to help control swelling. Be careful not to put too much pressure on your nose with the ice pack. Experts recommend using the ice pack for up to 15 minutes at a time, four times a day, for the first 24 to 48 hours after your injury.
- Feel free to take your usual medications for pain relief, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
- When you’re lying down, try to keep your head elevated to avoid exacerbating any swelling or throbbing pain.
- Avoid any activities that put your nose at risk. This one is a no-brainer. If your nose was literally flattened during a boxing match, you don’t want to be returning to the ring in a hurry.
It’s still recommended to check in with your doctor even after you’ve successfully first aided your nose at home. Some nasal fractures can result in an accumulation of blood within the nose, called a septal hematoma. This needs to be drained away by your doctor as leaving it untreated can result in further damage to your nasal cartilage.
Broken Nose Treatment (by the experts)
Your doctor isn’t likely to just grab your nose and twist it back into position – even the experts leave those maneuvers to Hollywood. A physical examination of your nose can tell whether its broken, as well as whether any surrounding structures, such as your teeth, jaw, or eyes, need attention. Your nose may be fractured but still in position, in which case no further treatment is needed, other than staying out of the boxing ring for a while.
However, if your nose is clearly not pointing in the same direction as it was before you walked into that wall, your doctor may be able to perform a procedure known as a manual realignment. A manual realignment should be done within 14 days of the original injury. If more than two weeks has already passed, you’re more likely to need surgery to correct the displacement.
A manual realignment involves applying a local anesthetic on your nose, and then using handheld tools to reposition any broken bones or cartilage. After this, you will have gauze packing inserted into your nose and a dressing applied to the outside as a splint. Manual nose realignments are typically done in the physician’s office.
More severe cases of a broken nose or those that have been left untreated for too long may need surgery under general anesthesia to repair the broken bone or cartilage, known as a rhinoplasty or septorhinoplasty. This is performed on an outpatient basis at a hospital.
As with most situations, prevention is better than cure. In the case of nasal fractures, being sensible and applying good common sense can go a long way in keeping your honker intact.
- Wear a seatbelt in the car, and ensure all children are secured in appropriate seats.
- Wear protective head and facial gear when engaging in contact sports or other high-risk sports.
- Wear a helmet when cycling or riding a motorcycle.
- Wear appropriate shoes for the terrain and activity to prevent slips and falls.
- Look out for walls – they can pop out of nowhere and try to smack you on the nose.
A broken nose is no fun is that it will most likely heal without issues if appropriately treated, and in a timely manner. Once your broken nose has healed over, if you’re not but the good news happy with its shape (or size), you may consider reconstructive surgery. Some people may also find the bump to their nose has resulted in a deviated septum, which can also be surgically corrected later.