Broken Nose

Written by Rose Kivi and Marijane Leonard | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

A broken nose—also called a nasal fracture or nose fracture—is a break or crack in a bone or in the cartilage in your nose. These breaks most often occur over the bridge of the nose or in the septum (the area that divides your nostrils).

What Causes a Broken Nose?

An impact to your nose can cause a break. Broken noses commonly occur with other face or neck injuries. Common causes of broken noses include:

  • walking into a wall
  • falling down
  • getting hit in the nose during a contact sport
  • motor vehicle accidents
  • physical altercations

Symptoms: How to Tell if Your Nose is Broken

Symptoms that your nose may be broken include:

  • pain in or around your nose
  • swelling of or around your nose
  • a bent or crooked nose (swelling can cause your nose to look bent or crooked, even if it is not broken)
  • bleeding from your nose
  • blocked nasal passages (a stuffy nose that won’t drain)
  • bruising around your nose and eyes (bruising usually disappears after two or three days)
  • a rubbing or grating sound or feeling when you move your nose

Symptoms Requiring Immediate Medical Treatment

Call 911, or seek immediate medical treatment if you break your nose and have any of the following symptoms:

  • Your nose is bleeding and will not stop.
  • You have clear fluid draining from your nose.
  • You are having difficulty breathing.
  • You suspect that you have a blood clot in your septum. This may feel like a small swelling on the side of your septum.
  • Your nose looks crooked or misshapen (do not try to straighten your nose yourself).

If you suspect you have a head or neck injury, avoid moving to prevent causing further damage.

Who Is at Risk for a Broken Nose?

Accidents can happen to anyone, so everyone has a risk of experiencing a broken nose at some point in their lives. Certain activities, however, can increase your risk for nasal fractures. These include:

  • participating in contact sports (especially without wearing a face mask)
  • being involved in a physical altercation
  • riding in a motor vehicle (especially if you do not wear a seat belt)
  • riding a bicycle

How Is a Broken Nose Diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose a broken nose by performing a physical examination, which involves looking at and touching your nose and face. If you are in a lot of pain, your doctor may give you a local anesthetic to numb your nose before the physical examination. Your doctor may ask you to come back in two or three days after your swelling has gone down so it will be easier to view your injuries. If your nose injury appears to be severe or is accompanied by other facial injuries, your doctor may order an X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan to determine the extent of damage to your nose and face.

How Is a Broken Nose Treated?

Depending on your symptoms, you may need immediate medical treatment, or you may be able to perform first aid at home and see a doctor at your convenience.

Home First Aid Treatment

If you do not have symptoms that warrant immediate medical treatment, there are a few things you can do at home before seeing your doctor:

  • If your nose is bleeding, sit down and lead forward while breathing through your mouth so the blood does not drain down your throat.
  • If you are not bleeding, elevate your head to reduce throbbing pain.
  • To reduce swelling, apply a cold compress or ice (wrapped inside a washcloth) to your nose for 10 to 15 minutes, four times a day.
  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) to relieve pain.

Medical Treatment

Not all broken noses require medical treatment. If your injuries are severe enough, your doctor may perform one of the following procedures:

  • packing your nose with gauze and/or placing a splint on your nose
  • prescribing pain medication and/or antibiotics
  • performing a closed reduction surgery, in which your doctor gives you a local anesthetic to numb your nose and manually realigns it
  • performing a rhinoplasty, a surgery to realign your nose
  • performing a septorhinoplasty, a surgery to repair your nasal septum

Closed reduction, rhinoplasty, and septorhinoplasty are not usually performed until three to 10 days after your injury, after swelling goes down.

Recovery and Outlook: Will Your Nose be the Same?

Your broken nose will most likely heal without any problems. If you are unhappy with the way your nose looks after it heals or you are having difficulty breathing normally, talk to your doctor about reconstructive nose surgery.

Prevention

You can reduce your risk of getting a broken nose by:

  • wearing shoes that have good traction to reduce your risk of falling
  • wearing protective face gear when participating in contact sports
  • wearing your seat belt when in a motor vehicle
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