Skull and facial fractures are broken bones of the head and face. Injury can result in damage to the brain.
Types of skull fractures include: Simple—the bone is broken, but skin is intactLinear—the break is in a thin, straight line through the depth of the skull boneDepressed—the bone of the skull is crushed and pushed in toward the brainComminuted—a complex fracture with bone splintering and tearing of the skin
Facial fractures can occur in any of the face’s bones. They are named for specific areas of the face: Maxillary fractures involve the upper jaw. They are classified as Le Fort I-V fractures based on their specific location on the maxillary bone.Mandible fractures involve the lower jaw.Zygomatic fractures involve the cheekbones.
Fractures may either be: Closed—the fracture does not break the skinOpen—the fracture breaks through the skin
Both skull and facial fractures may be life-threatening conditions. They require immediate medical treatment.
Fractures in the Zygomatic Arch and Orbit
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Skull and/or facial fractures are caused by direct trauma to your head. Trauma can be caused by: FallsCar, motorcycle, or pedestrian accident
traumaPenetrating traumaDomestic violence, child or elder abuseSports injuryGunshot
Factors that may increase the chance of a skull and/or facial fracture include: Children up to 4 years old and advancing ageNot wearing a seatbeltNot wearing a bike or motorcycle helmetOccupations with risk of falls from heightsPlaying sports without proper head protectionHealth conditions that increase the risk of falls
Specific factors that may also increase a child's risk of a skull fracture include: Previous head injuryWheelchair useCar seat related accidents, such as drops, flip-overs, or falls
These will depend on the location, type, and extent of the injury.
A skull or facial fracture may cause: Swelling and painHeadacheBumps and bruisesVisible bleeding (some injuries cause internal bleeding that may not be seen)Leaking cerebrospinal fluid, which usually occurs through the noseBlood in the ears or noseInability to move face or mouthUneven dental biteEye problems, such as double vision or inability to completely move the eyesBreathing difficulties due to airway obstructionHearing lossNumbness or tingling of the faceDeformity or facial asymmetry
Some trauma causes bleeding in the brain. A hematoma occurs when a pocket of blood leaks into the spaces between the brain and the skull, increasing intracranial pressure.
Signs of injury to the brain or hematoma include: Any loss of consciousnessWorsening headacheVomitingConfusionSeizuresUnequal pupilsIncreased pressure in the brainParalysis to the limbs
Lightheadedness, which may lead to faintingNausea with or without vomitingChanges in visionSluggishness or grogginessDifficulty concentrating
You will most likely be taken to a hospital. A doctor will ask about your symptoms and how your injury occurred. A physical exam will be done. A neurological exam will evaluate your nervous system. Tests may include the following: Pain and airway assessmentAn examination of the ears for blood, and the nose for blood or fluid that may be leaking from the brain
Glasgow coma scale—neurological exam that tests different parts of the nervous system including:
Level of consciousnessPupil reaction to lightReflexesResponse to stimuli
Imaging tests may include
If you are in a situation where there is a skull or facial fracture injury, call for medical help right away.
Treatment will depend on the location and extent of the injury.
The first steps will be focused on stabilizing your injury. They may include: Attaching a backboard to stabilize the head and neckA breathing tube for a blocked airwayIV fluidsAdmission to the hospital for monitoring
Stabilization may also require emergency surgery to protect surrounding tissues and organs.
Some fractures cause pieces of bone to separate. Your doctor will need to put these pieces back into their proper place. This may be done: Without surgery—you will have anesthesia to decrease pain while the doctor moves the pieces back into placeWith surgery—plates or wires may be needed to reconnect the pieces and hold them in place
Nearly half of skull and facial fractures require surgical repair. Surgery may not be done until the fracture is stabilized and swelling at the injury site goes down.
People with these fractures usually need to stay in the hospital. Serious injuries may need to be watched in an intensive care unit. Some people with skull or facial fractures need to have help breathing. A tube is inserted and mechanical ventilation is used to protect and assist breathing.
You may need the following: Pain medicationAntiseizure medicationsMedications to reduce pressure inside your head or brain swellingAntibiotics if an infection is present or possible
Healing time varies by age and your overall health. Children and people in better overall health heal faster. In general, it may take several weeks for a skull or facial fracture to heal.
You will need to adjust your activities while you recover, but complete rest is rarely required. Ice may also be recommended to help with discomfort and swelling.
As you recover, you may be referred to physical therapy or rehabilitation to keep your muscles strong. Do not return to activities or sports until your doctor gives you permission to do so.
To help reduce your chance of a skull and/or facial fracture, take these steps: Avoid situations that put you at risk of physical harmAlways wear a seatbelt when driving or riding in a carAlways wear a helmet when riding a bike or motorcycleDo not drive under the influence of alcohol or drugsWear proper padding and safety equipment when participating in sports or activities
To help reduce falling hazards at work and home, take these steps: Clean spills and slippery areas right awayRemove tripping hazards such as loose cords, rugs, and clutterUse non-slip mats in the bathtub and showerInstall grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower or tubPut in handrails on both sides of stairwaysWalk only in well-lit rooms, stairs, and hallsKeep flashlights on hand in case of a power outage
Facial fractures. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at:
http://my.clevelandclinic.org/head_neck/patients/facial_plastic_reconstructive_surgery/facial-fractures.aspx. Accessed September 16, 2013.
Maxillofacial injuries. Patient UK website. Available at:
http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/Maxillofacial-Injuries.htm. Updated December 20, 2010. Accessed September 16, 2013.
Moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated August 23, 2013. Accessed September 16, 2013.
NINDS traumatic brain injury information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tbi/tbi.htm. Updated February 11, 2013. Accessed September 16, 2013.
Park CH, Lee JH, et al. Reduction of inferior orbital wall fractures using a Foley catheter and an endoloop.
Subdural hematoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated October 22, 2012. Accessed September 16, 2013.
Traumatic brain injury. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/TraumaticBrainInjury/index.html. Updated August 15, 2013. Accessed September 16, 2013.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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