Broken Nose: How long does it take to recover?

This article was updated on January 30th, 2024 at 10:06 pm

A small act of carelessness, sports activities, or accidents can often lead to an unexpected nasal fracture. Being one of the most common facial traumas that can be encountered in daily life, this situation not only affects aesthetics but also has significant functional consequences and can lead to various problems, including respiratory issues.

Nasal Bone and Cartilage Structure

The human nose is an organ of significant functional and aesthetic importance. Positioned on the respiratory tract, the nose plays a crucial role in the cleaning, warming, and humidifying of the air during breathing.

Nasal bones are small, flat bones located in the middle part of the human face, forming the upper part of the nasal bridge. Typically, there are two of these bones, arranged parallel to each other, composing the upper part of the nasal bridge. The size and shape of the nasal bones vary from person to person, but they are generally thin and relatively fragile.

Nasal cartilage is a type of flexible tissue that supports the shape and structure of the nose. There are multiple cartilages in the human nasal structure, and they work together to perform various functions of the nose.

A nasal fracture is the damage or breakage of the nasal bones. It most commonly occurs as a result of facial trauma. If the fracture is in the nasal cartilage and the cartilage damage is severe, or if there is a significant distortion in the shape of the nose, surgical intervention may be required. The surgeon may deem it necessary to reshape, correct, and, if needed, add cartilage or tissue to the nose. Since the nasal cartilage has less blood flow compared to other areas of the body, the healing process usually takes longer.

Rhinoplasty is a common surgical method used for reshaping the nasal cartilage. In repairing broken cartilage, doctors often use cartilage or tissue grafts taken from the patient’s own body.

What is a Nasal Fracture?

Physical trauma impacts the face; sports activities, accidents, and collisions can cause nasal fractures. 

A nasal fracture is typically not a serious problem, but in some cases, it can lead to complications such as bleeding and infection risk, breathing difficulties, sinus problems, and changes in aesthetic appearance.

Otolaryngologists (ENT specialists) primarily deal with simple nasal fractures, nasal congestion, and functional problems like breathing issues. Plastic surgeons perform operations like rhinoplasty to correct the shape of the nose and improve its aesthetic appearance. If functional problems are accompanied by a desire for aesthetic improvements in a nasal fracture, a combined approach by an ENT specialist and a plastic surgeon can yield better results.

How Can You Tell if Your Nose Is Broken?

Common symptoms such as pain and tenderness, swelling and redness, bleeding, bruising, and difficulty breathing may indicate a nasal fracture. When the break occurs in the bones of the outer part of the nose, there may not be bleeding.

Darkening around the pupils, or bruising around the eyes, also known as “panda eyes,” can sometimes be a sign of a broken nose. This symptom can indicate fractures of the nasal bones as well as the bones around the eyes.

Swelling of the nose can result from a blow or trauma to the nasal area, and this can be due to a bone fracture, damage to the nasal cartilage, tissue injury, or a simple contusion (bruising).

When there’s a fracture, it’s crucial to avoid moving the affected area to prevent further damage. Applying a cold compress to the fractured area can help reduce swelling and pain.

One should not attempt to realign or reposition the suspected fractured area. Also, applying excessive pressure to the fractured site or lifting heavy objects can cause further damage. As with first aid, it’s important to keep the fractured area immobile and, if possible, stabilized. Avoid applying tight bandages or heat, as these can restrict blood circulation or increase swelling. Certain pain relievers may increase bleeding, so they should be used only with a doctor’s advice.

What Happens if a Nasal Fracture is Not Treated?

Nasal fractures can generally be treated most effectively within the first few days. If the fracture is not treated initially, complications such as changes in the shape of the nose or breathing difficulties can occur. Additionally, issues like permanent deformity, chronic pain, a reduced sense of smell, and sinus infections can also arise.

Most nasal fractures do not require surgery. The treatment of nasal fractures depends on the severity of the fracture and the changes in the nasal structure.

Mild nasal fractures can usually heal within 3 to 6 weeks. For severe fractures, complete healing can take from 6 weeks to 3 months.

Some fractures, especially open fractures or those posing a risk of vascular or nerve damage, require urgent surgical intervention. In less urgent cases, surgery is usually performed after the swelling of the fracture and surrounding tissue have decreased. This can occur within a few days after the trauma, but sometimes it may take several weeks.

Nasal Fracture and Nasal Reshaping

In cases of mild to moderate fractures, the doctor repositions the broken nasal bones and cartilage back to their original places. This procedure is usually performed under local anesthesia. After the fracture is corrected, the nose is stabilized using a nasal splint or bandages. The surgeon can perform procedures like repositioning, correcting the nasal bones and cartilage, and adding tissue if necessary.

When the nose is broken and results in changes to its shape or function, a rhinoplasty (nose job) can be performed. Rhinoplasty is used to address both aesthetic and functional issues.

Precautions to Take with a Broken Nose

  • Sleeping: Sleeping with a broken nose can be risky. It is important to keep the head in a raised position to reduce swelling. This regulates blood flow, thereby decreasing swelling and pain. Additionally, avoiding sleeping on your side and lying on your back reduces pressure on the nose.
  • Shower: When taking a shower, use lukewarm water. Very hot water can increase blood circulation in the nasal area, leading to increased swelling. If you are using a nasal splint or bandage, it’s necessary to take precautions to keep them dry and avoid contact with water.
  • Working: If you are working and your job is relatively light and not physically demanding, it may be possible to work with a broken nose. However, if surgery is required, it is important to follow the advice of your doctor.
  • Flying: Especially during takeoff and landing, can cause discomfort or pain in the nose and sinuses due to changes in air pressure. There’s also a risk of bleeding, which can increase with changes in air pressure. For these reasons, it is generally not recommended.
  • Swimming: Swimming is not advisable due to the risk of infection. The pressure can create additional strain on a healing fracture, which can increase pain and potentially prolong the healing process.
  • Heavy lifting: Avoiding heavy lifting is also important. Lifting weights increases blood pressure in the body, which can lead to bleeding or swelling.

Complications That Can Arise From a Broken Nose

A broken nose can disrupt the normal functioning of the sinuses, as changes in nasal structure can affect sinus drainage and ventilation. This situation can lead to sinus congestion and infections. Damage inside the nose can cause inflammation of the sinuses and lead to sinus pain.

Additionally, sinus pressure and congestion can cause headaches, which may trigger migraines. In rare cases, this can also lead to dizziness, which may indirectly cause nausea.

A broken nose can narrow or block the airways inside the nose. This can particularly make breathing difficult during sleep and may increase the risk of sleep apnea.

A broken nose can indirectly lead to a sore throat. Breathing through the mouth can dry out and irritate the throat, which may cause throat pain. A broken nose can increase the risk of infection, and these infections can spread from the sinuses to the throat.

A deviated septum occurs when the septum (the wall that divides the two sides of the nose) is misaligned from its proper position. A direct blow to the septum can change its position, potentially leading to a deviated septum.

Nasal Fractures in Children

In children, nasal fractures commonly occur due to falls, sports activities, accidents during play, or physical collisions. Children’s bone structures are more flexible compared to adults, so fractures may sometimes differ from those in adults.

Symptoms of nasal fractures in children include pain in the nose, swelling, bruising, changes in the shape of the nose, and sometimes bleeding. Difficulty in breathing or snoring may also be observed.

Diagnosis of a nasal fracture in children is usually made through physical examination and sometimes imaging tests (like X-rays). Depending on the situation, repositioning of the nasal bone (reduction) or, in rare cases, surgical intervention may be required.

In the case of a nasal fracture in children, to reduce swelling and bruising, a clean cloth-wrapped ice pack or cold compress can be gently applied to the nasal area. If there is bleeding, keeping the child’s head elevated can help reduce bleeding and swelling.

Foods That Aid in the Fast Healing of Bones

Drinks that are beneficial for bone repair and health are usually products containing calcium and vitamin D.

  • Milk and vegetable milks
  • Green tea
  • Orange juice
  • Bone broth (contains collagen, minerals and amino acids)
  • Bananas are beneficial for bone health as they contain potassium, magnesium, vitamin C and B16.

In addition, drinking plenty of water is extremely important for bone healing as it has benefits such as cellular health, blood circulation, nutrient transport, and elimination of toxic substances.

Following your doctor’s instructions, along with adequate sleep and a balanced diet, can help speed up recovery. Staying hydrated and avoiding smoking and alcohol are also very important.