Nasal trauma is a common injury and can result in varying amounts of damage to any of the component structures, the skin, the cartilage, or the bone.
As with any trauma, initial assessment of facial trauma should always be performed as per standard ATLS protocol. Nasal injuries may be isolated or co-exist with other injuries (which often take priority over the nasal injuries).
However, the majority of nasal fractures are isolated injuries. As a generic approach to any nasal trauma, it is important to establish the mechanism of injury; including impact, force, direction and timing. Key symptoms to enquire about include pain, nasal deviation, obstruction, and epistaxis; examination of the nose can be found here.
This article will focus specifically on isolated nasal trauma.
Nasal skin lacerations can often be difficult to manage due to the 3-dimensional complexity of the nose shape.
The wound should be cleaned* and, where possible, the skin edges opposed. This can be done with either steri-strips or sutures. If primary closure is not possible, referral to the plastics team may be required (or left to heal by secondary intention)
*Consideration should also be given to tetanus prophylaxis, depending on the mechanism of injury and the vaccination status of the patient
Septal haematoma is an important finding that should not be left out in the initial examination of a patient with nasal injury, as can be serious if left untreated.
A septal haematoma will develop following trauma, whereby the shearing forces involved result in a separation of overlying perichondrium from the nasal septal cartilage. This causes submucosal blood vessels to tear and blood to accumulate within this space.
Septal haematomas are visible on anterior rhinoscopy as a boggy red/purple swelling from the nasal septum (Fig. 2). Using a Jobson Horne probe, gently palpate the mucosa, as a haematoma will be fluctuant, which helps to differentiate from a deviated septum (normally unilateral).
Treatment involves incision and drainage of the haematoma, usually under general anaesthetic.
Septal haematomas if left untreated can result in avascular necrosis of the septal cartilage, as the cartilage ordinarily gets its blood supply from the overlying perichondrium. This leaves the cartilage acutely susceptible to infection and abscess formation*.
Avascular necrosis over a longer period of time can also result in septal perforation or a “saddle nose” deformity (Fig. 3). As such, early recognition and intervention is essential, and should be assessed for with every patient presenting with nasal trauma.
*Nasal septal abscesses carry a risk of ascending cavernous sinus infection and the associated intracranial or ocular complications
Nasal bone fractures account for nearly 50% of all facial fractures. However, the nose is usually too swollen initially to be effectively examined from a fracture point of view.
There is no role for plain film radiographs in the clinical diagnosis or management of isolated nasal injury; in cases where co-existing fractures are suspected, CT imaging is usually the preferred imaging modality.
Patients with suspected nasal fractures can be seen semi-electively* (usually within 7-10 days post-injury) in the ENT clinic, being assessed for:
- Nasal deformity – objective assessment for any bony or septal deviation, as well as the patient’s perception of the appearance of their nose
- Nasal obstruction – ask how the patient is symptomatically; air flow can be assessed by holding a metal tongue depressor below the nose and observing misting during nasal breathing.
*Importantly, any cases of concurrent septal haematoma need to be managed urgently
If indicated, a Manipulation Under Anaesthesia (MUA) of the nasal bones can be performed, either under local anaesthetic (in the clinic) or general anaesthetic.This should take place within 14-21 days of the original injury.
If the aesthetic result is unsatisfactory, further definitive surgery can be performed. Rhinoplasty is concerned with changing the shape of the nasal bones, septoplasty is concerned with nasal septum alteration.
Manipulation Under Anaesthesia of a Nasal Fracture
In order to reduce a nasal fracture under local anaesthetic, a regional nose block should be performed, typically using lidocaine with adrenaline.
When the nose is adequately anaesthetised, firm lateral digital pressure should be applied just below the area of deformity with the aim of straightening and aligning the nasal dorsum.
It is worth noting that correction of a dorsal hump is rarely achievable using this method.
Epistaxis as a result of trauma is common*. In the majority of cases the bleeding will cease with simple measures, including applying firm pinching pressure to the nose just below the bony-cartilagenous junction.
Unless the injury is complicated by co-existing facial fractures, any epistaxis that does not resolve with these initial measures can be treated as per usual management steps (discussed here).
*Epistaxis from trauma usually originates from the ethmoidal arteries (anterior primarily), therefore often are more likely to require operative intervention
Whilst the majority of nasal trauma is uncomplicated, complications can occur:
CSF leak occurs following fracture through the cribiform plate (the roof of the nasal cavity), resulting in the leakage of CSF out via the nose; this may manifest clinically as persistent clear rhinorrhoea
- CSF can be confirmed by testing the fluid for high levels of beta-2 transferrin; in such cases, routine use of prophylactic antibiotics is not recommended and if the defect is small, a conservative approach can be adopted*
- Anosmia can also occur following nasal trauma; in the acute setting, this is typically due to the nasal passages being blocked with blood, however if post-traumatic anosmia persists, it is likely a result of damage to olfactory structures and unfortunately is unlikely to resolve.
*95% of cases will seal spontaneously within 2 weeks, however if CSF rhinorrhoea persists, surgical management may be required
- In all nasal trauma, first consider any co-existing trauma that may require concurrent or prioritised treatment
- Be sure to check for a septal haematoma in all nasal trauma, even if there is a delay in presentation
- Patients with suspected nasal fractures can be seen semi-electively in an ENT clinic
- Most cases of CSF rhinorrhoea will resolve spontaneously and antibiotic prophylaxis is not required