What is nasal trauma?
Nasal trauma is an injury to your nose or the areas that surround and support your nose. Internal or external injuries can cause nasal trauma. The position of your nose makes your nasal bones, cartilage, and soft tissue particularly vulnerable to external injuries.
Common types of nasal trauma include:
- chemical irritation or injuries to the inside of your nose
- obstruction by a foreign object
Your nose has many blood vessels positioned close to the surface. As a result, nasal trauma often results in nosebleeds. Other symptoms can also arise. Your recommended treatment will depend on your specific condition and symptoms.
Symptoms of nasal trauma can range from mild to severe, depending on the type and extent of your injury. For example, symptoms of nasal trauma can include:
- pain in and around your nose
- blood coming from your nose
- clear fluid coming from your nose
- bruising around your eyes
- swelling of your face, particularly around your nasal area
- trouble breathing through your nose
- distortion of the shape of your nose
- loss of sense of smell
External nasal trauma can occur when force is exerted on your nose. Common causes of external nasal trauma include:
- sports injuries
- motor vehicle accidents
- physical assault or abuse
Internal nasal trauma can occur when the cartilage or the blood vessels inside your nose get damaged. Common causes of internal nasal trauma include:
- infections from nasal piercings
- irritation caused by inhaling certain substances
- sniffing cocaine or other illegal drugs
- picking or scratching the inside of your nose
- getting a foreign object lodged in your nose
Children often put themselves at risk of nasal injury by picking or putting objects up their nose.
Your doctor may use a variety of methods to diagnose nasal trauma. For example, they may:
- ask about your symptoms and when they started
- gently touch the bridge of your nose to feel for irregular alignment or movement
- examine the inside of your nose to look for obstructions or chemical damage
- use an X-ray or CT scan to assess the internal structures of your nose
In many cases, you can treat minor cases of nasal trauma at home, using basic first aid and home care strategies. In other cases, you may need professional treatment. Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will vary, depending on the type and severity of nasal trauma that you have. For example, they may recommend:
- cauterization or packing
First aid and home care
To treat minor nosebleeds:
- Sit upright and lean forward to reduce blood pressure in your nose.
- Pinch both of your nostrils shut at the soft portion of your nose for five to 15 minutes.
- While completing these steps, breathe through your mouth and keep your head higher than your heart. Refrain from picking or blowing your nose for several hours afterward.
To treat blunt-force trauma to your nose:
- Apply ice for 10 to 20 minutes at a time throughout the day for the first few days after your injury. Wrap the ice in a thin cloth or towel to protect your skin from frostbite.
- Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers, such as ibuprofen.
- Sleep with your head raised to reduce pain and swelling.
- If you suspect that your nose is broken, contact your doctor.
To remove a foreign object from your nose:
- Try to gently blow the object out of your nose by pinching shut the unaffected nostril.
- If the object is visible and can be easily grasped, try to gently remove it with tweezers.
- If the first two steps fail, contact your doctor. Don’t pick at the object or use a cotton swab or other tool to probe at it.
Cauterization or packing
You can treat most nosebleeds at home. But if you develop a nosebleed that lasts longer than 20 minutes or recurs frequently, contact your doctor. You may require blood tests or imaging of the nose to diagnose the cause. You may also require professional treatment.
Two common treatments of nosebleeds are nasal packing and cauterization. With packing, your doctor will place gauze or an inflatable balloon inside one or both nostrils to exert pressure on the broken blood vessels in order to stop your bleeding. In other cases, they may use cauterization to stop nosebleeds. In this procedure, they apply either a topical medication to the broken blood vessels or use a heating device to seal them closed.
Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications to help treat certain types of nasal trauma. For example, they may recommend:
- painkillers to ease discomfort
- antibiotics to treat infections
- nasal sprays to reduce irritation
If you experience a severe nasal fracture, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair it.
For example, your doctor can use a technique called reduction to push the broken pieces of bone back into place. They may complete this procedure in their office using local anesthesia. Or a surgeon may complete it in an operating room using general anesthesia. Typically, you need to wait a few days to allow swelling to decrease, before they can judge proper bone alignment and complete the procedure. Afterward, they will stabilize your nose with an external splint.
In other cases, you may need more intensive reconstructive surgery to repair a nasal fracture.
If your nasal fracture is accompanied by clear fluid coming from your nose, you will be admitted to the hospital. This is cerebrospinal fluid. Your doctor may insert a drain in your lower back to help change the course of the spinal fluid away from the injured area.
In most cases, the outlook for nasal trauma is good. In some cases, it may result in nasal deformities, scarring, or other complications.
For example, a nasal fracture can potentially damage the bones that attach your nose to your skull, allowing cerebrospinal fluid to leak. This damage also presents an opportunity for bacteria from your nose to reach your brain and spinal cord, which can cause meningitis.
Septal hematoma is another rare complication of nasal trauma. This happens when a collection of blood forms inside your nose. If left untreated, it can cause the cartilage in your nose to die, resulting in a deformed, collapsed nose.
You can prevent many types of nasal trauma by taking simple precautions. For example:
- Wear appropriate protective headgear when playing sports or participating in activities such as bicycling and skateboarding.
- Always use seatbelts and car seats in motor vehicles.
- Use protective masks when working with toxic substances.
- Quit smoking and don’t abuse illegal drugs.
- Don’t stick foreign objects up your nose.
By following these simple steps, you can protect your nasal health and ward off potential injuries.