Our noses are arguably the most prominent feature on our faces, so it’s not surprising that broken noses, or nasal fractures, are the most common facial bone injuries.
Most of us will experience getting hit in the nose at some point in our lives, whether it’s from contact sports, getting in a fight or just being a klutz.
A strong hit to the nose can be extremely shocking and painful, but not every pop to the nose means it’s broken. Besides the obvious sign that your nose isn’t pointing in the direction it once did, fractures aren’t always obvious.
Here’s how to know whether your nose is broken and steps to treat it.
What exactly is a nasal fracture?
Any crack in the bone or cartilage (the part that gives your nose shape) is considered a fractured, or broken, nose. The cartilage includes the septum or the wall inside your nose that divides the nostrils.
“Keep in mind that your nose is made mostly made of cartilage,” said David Chen, MD, a facial plastic surgeon and ear, nose and throat specialist with Banner Health in Tucson, AZ. “Even if you don’t break the bones of the nose, the cartilage can still be fractured, which can lead to further issues like a deviated septum. This can cause a blockage in your nasal airway unless it’s corrected with surgery.”
What problems can a broken nose cause?
A broken nose can cause some serious problems. In addition to possibly changing the appearance of your nose, other issues include a septal hematoma (a blood clot that forms within the wall inside the nose), breathing issues caused by things like a deviated septum and problems with snoring.
How can you break your nose?
Given that your nose sticks out front and center on your face, it’s safe to say it’ll take the brunt anytime your face connects with a hard surface.
You can accidentally break your nose from falling or even walking into a wall, but many other nose injuries are caused by things like car accidents and contact sports. Sports like boxing, wrestling, hockey, basketball and football increase the risk of injuries.
How can I tell if my nose is broken?
Injury to the nose is often accompanied by pain and bleeding, but just because you experience these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve broken your nose.
Some of the tell-tale signs that your nose is broken are if you have very noticeable bruising and swelling, especially around the eyes, if you notice a new deformity or if your nose appears to be crooked.
When should I seek medical attention?
If you suspect your nose is broken, seek medical help. You can be examined by your primary health care provider, at an urgent care or in the emergency department (ED). You may need an X-ray or CT scan to look at the damage as well as see if there are any other injuries.
However, go to the ED right away if you experience heavy nose bleeding that won’t stop, clear fluid draining from the nose, loss of consciousness, or you have trouble breathing, severe headaches, vomiting, neck pain or change in vision.
For all minor injuries, it’s also better to be evaluated sooner rather than later (within the first couple of weeks) to see if you might need to have your nose reset (or straightened). If you miss this window, you may have to wait to allow your nose to heal before any further treatment can be done.
“After one to two weeks, the bones will solidify and heal in place as they are, and if they are crooked, it may require a more definitive surgery down the road to fix them,” Dr. Chen said. “You may have to wait six to 12 months before a more definitive surgery can be done.”
A fractured nose that is very badly broken, was never reset or heals poorly despite being reset may need to be corrected with rhinoplasty, a surgery to reshape the nose to reverse the effects of the break.
How do you care for a broken nose?
If you or someone you know experiences a blow to the nose, here are some helpful tips for first aid to administer before getting further medical attention.
1. Stop the bleeding. Apply firm pressure with your index finger and thumb to the bottom, fleshy part of the nose (not over the bones or bridge of the nose).
“Imagine you are pinching your nose tightly closed before doing a cannonball into the pool,” Dr. Chen said.
Keep holding this pressure without letting go for at least 15 to 20 minutes. You need to allow enough time for your blood to clot. “If you let go, the clock restarts,” Dr. Chen noted.
2. Lean forward – not backward. This is a common misconception. You want to lean forward so that any blood drips out of the front of your nose and not down your throat.
“Blood is an irritant to the stomach, and swallowing blood can make you nauseous and cause vomiting, which can make the nosebleed worse,” Dr. Chen said.
3. Don’t attempt to straighten your nose. Just because your nose is swollen doesn’t mean it requires a reset, so leave the care of your nose to the experts.
4. Apply a cold compress. Prepare an ice pack or cold compress to apply to the nose to help reduce swelling. Keep the compress on the nose for about 15 to 20 minutes, then remove it. Repeat in 15-to-20-minute intervals. Place a thin cloth between the ice pack and your skin.
5. Take a pain reliever with care. Once the bleeding has stopped, you can take a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
6. Take it easy. Depending on the extent of your nose injury, you may have to take it easy on activities. Follow your provider’s orders on rest to ensure your nose has time to properly heal.
Nobody “nose” when they may get a blow to the nose, but nasal fractures are a very common injury. If you have signs of a broken nose, seek medical attention so you can be properly diagnosed and treated. And, whatever you do – don’t take realigning your nose into your own hands. Leave it to the professionals.
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