How can I tell if I have a nasal fracture?

The most common facial fracture is a nasal bone break, accounting for approximately 50% of all cases. If you have experienced a physical altercation, a sports injury to the face, or a motor vehicle accident, there is every chance you have walked away with a nasal fracture. 

However, figuring out whether you have a nasal fracture is not always straightforward. If you’re not quite sure, here’s what you need to look out for. Of course, this is not medical advice, and if you’re concerned, contact your doctor. 

Basic Symptoms of Nasal Fracture 

There are several common symptoms that point to a nasal fracture. If there is significant pain or tenderness, particularly when touching your nose, it may point to a fracture. Swelling of the nose and surrounding areas is also common. You may also see some bruising. 

You should be particularly mindful of nose bleeds; despite being very commonly associated with nasal fractures, certain contexts point to more serious issues. You may also see additional discharge of mucus from the nose, and the feeling that there is a blockage. 

Most of these symptoms can be treated fairly simply (more on that below), but certain cases will require medical care.  

When You Need to Visit a Doctor 

Most nasal fractures tend to be minor and will heal on their own. There are cases, however, where you will need to visit your doctor. Keep the following symptoms in mind when assessing whether to seek medical assistance: 

  • Your nose is not straight or crooked. This one should be fairly obvious! 
  • Swelling is not going down. If you still see the same level of swelling after three days, see your doctor. 
  • Painkillers are not doing anything. Painkillers should have a significant effect on pain. If not, seek medical assistance. 
  • Nosebleeds are not stopping. Some nosebleeds are fine, but if they are regular and not stopping in frequency, it’s doctor time. 
  • Fevers or high temperatures, feeling very hot, shivery, all are signs you need medical assistance. 

All of the above symptoms can be taken with a ‘wait and see’ attitude. Some situations, however, require an immediate visit to the ER: 

  • Your nose does not stop bleeding. 
  • Large wounds or cuts, especially if there is an object lodged in the nose, will require a visit to the ER. 
  • Headaches or blurred vision, perhaps seeing double, all point to a major injury. 

Be particularly mindful of symptoms that point to a major head injury, as this can cause catastrophic brain damage or death. Do not ignore these symptoms! If you are doubtful, go to your local hospital. 

Broken Nose? Here’s What You Need to Do

Okay, so your nose is likely broken (but it’s not too serious). Don’t panic just yet, as it is usually possible for you to treat the break yourself. Within a few days, you should start feeling a whole lot better. Full healing will take around three weeks. Here’s what you can do to help the process: 

  • Use ice packs. These will become your constant companions for the first few days. Use either an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas. Always wrap these around a towel, and apply directly to your nose. Do this for approximately fifteen minutes at a time, several times per day. 
  • Reduce swelling by keeping your head upright when in bed. You don’t need to be entirely straight, but prop a few additional pillows than you’re used to. 
  • Use paracetamol. If you’re in pain, use paracetamol according to the packet instructions. 

Perhaps even more important than what you actively need to do, however, is what you should not do. You can cause additional damage, so avoid doing the following: 

  • Do not do DIY straightening. If your nose has changed shape in any way, it’s time to see your doctor. And yes, this is even if you feel it is a ‘minor’ break. 
  • If you can, avoid wearing glasses. Of course, this may not be a choice for many of you, so try and minimize wear as much as possible. 
  • Do not pick or blow your nose until it is fully healed. 
  • Press the stop button on exercise, especially if it is strenuous). Try to limit your workouts to light exercise only. 
  • Do not play contact sports for approximately six weeks following the injury. This may be particularly difficult towards the end of the healing journey, but it is important to heal fully before attempting to get back on the field. 

The main thing is to be consistent with treatment, give your body the time it needs to heal (but be mindful if it’s taking too long!), and avoid going back to activities too early. Most breaks are relatively minor and you will heal without issues.