A broken nose, also called a nasal fracture or nose fracture, is a break or crack in the bone or cartilage of your nose. These breaks typically occur over the bridge of the nose or in the septum, which is the area that divides your nostrils.
A sudden impact to your nose is the most common cause of a break. Broken noses often occur with other facial 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
- getting punched or kicked in the nose
The symptoms of a broken nose include:
- pain in or around your nose
- a bent or crooked nose
- a swollen nose or swelling around your nose, which can cause your nose to look bent or crooked even if it’s not broken
- bleeding from your nose
- a stuffy nose that won’t drain, which can mean your nasal passages are blocked
- bruising around your nose and eyes, which 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 heavily and won’t stop.
- You have clear fluid draining from your nose.
- You are having difficulty breathing.
- Your nose looks crooked or misshapen. (Don’t try to straighten your nose yourself.)
If you suspect you have a head or neck injury, avoid moving to prevent further damage.
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 of a nasal fracture.
People who participate in most contact sports are at increased risk for a broken nose. Some contact sports include:
- martial arts
Other activities that can put you at risk include:
- being involved in a physical altercation
- riding in a motor vehicle, especially if you don’t wear a seat belt
- riding a bicycle
Groups at higher risk
Some groups are automatically at a higher risk for a broken nose, regardless of their participation in sports or other physical activities. They are children and older adults. Bone health is a particular concern for both groups, and falls are also common among them.
Children are at a higher risk for nose fractures, as they’re still building bone mass. Toddlers and young children are particularly vulnerable.
The proper gear should always be worn during contact sports and physical activities.
Your doctor can usually diagnose a broken nose by performing a physical examination. This involves looking at and touching your nose and face. If you have a lot of pain, your doctor may apply a local anesthetic to numb your nose before the physical examination.
Your doctor may ask you to return in two or three days once the swelling has gone down and it’s 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 CT scan. They can help determine the extent of damage to your nose and face.
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.
First aid at home
If you don’t 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 lean forward while breathing through your mouth. This way, the blood doesn’t drain down your throat.
- If you’re not bleeding, elevate your head to reduce throbbing pain.
- To reduce swelling, apply a cold compress or ice wrapped in a washcloth to your nose for 15 to 20 minutes, three or four times a day.
- Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to relieve pain.
It’s ideal if facial trauma is evaluated immediately to fully assess the extent of injuries. People often don’t realize all of the structures that can be affected by facial injury and a broken nose. It’s easier to fix a broken or fractured nose within one to two weeks of the injury.
Not all broken noses require medical treatment. If your injuries are severe enough, your doctor may do one of the following:
- pack your nose with gauze and possibly place a splint on it
- prescribe pain medication and possibly antibiotics
- perform a closed reduction surgery, in which your doctor gives you a local anesthetic to numb your nose and manually realigns it
- perform a rhinoplasty, which is a surgery to realign your nose
- perform a septorhinoplasty, which is a surgery to repair your nasal septum
Closed reduction, rhinoplasty, and septorhinoplasty aren’t usually performed until three to 10 days after your injury, after the swelling goes down.
Medical treatment may not be necessary when only minor fractures with no misalignment are present. However, assessment by a doctor is always needed so they can determine if and what treatment is appropriate. Moderate to severe injuries may require surgery.
Surgery should happen within 14 days of injury, and pain and discomfort from the surgery should start to decrease within 72 hours of the procedure.
Different medical treatments will vary in costs, affected by factors including the extent of treatment and your insurance. If caused by an injury, rhinoplasty is covered under most insurance policies, as are diagnostic expenses such as X-rays and examinations with a doctor.
You can take these precautions to reduce the risk of a broken nose:
- Wear shoes with good traction to prevent falls.
- During contact sports, wear protective face gear to prevent injuries to your nose.
- Wear a helmet when riding a bike or operating a motorcycle.
- Wear your seatbelt while riding in a motor vehicle, and make sure children are properly restrained.
Your broken nose will most likely heal without any problems. If you’re unhappy with the way your nose looks after it heals or if you’re having difficulty breathing normally, reconstructive nose surgery is an option.