An automobile accident is the most common cause of a skull fracture, but it certainly isn’t the only cause. Other accidental causes include falls from a height onto a hard surface, or acute head trauma during athletic activity, and then there are skull fractures that come about as a result from physical violence. A punch can cause a cranial fracture, as can being struck by an object like a bat or hammer.
Unlike most fractures where care is directed to treating the fracture site, in skull fractures, doctors are usually more focused on limiting damage to the brain as opposed to the injury to the skull. Once neurosurgeons are confident that the brain is stabilized, they’ll move forward treating the cranial fracture. Below, we take a closer look at some of the symptoms, types and treatment options for skull fractures.
Symptoms and Types of Skull Fractures
Sometimes a skull fracture is obvious, while other times we are tipped off to their presence by symptoms. Some common symptoms of a skull fracture include:
- Severe pain
- Swelling near impact site
- Tenderness near impact site
- Facial bruising
- Bleeding from the nose or ears
- Loss of consciousness
If you suspect that you’re dealing with a skull fracture, have yourself examined by a neurospecialist or another primary care physician as soon as possible. They’ll conduct a physical examination and then order an imaging test that will help determine the extent of the damage as well as the type of skull fracture. Here’s a look at some of the different types of skull fractures.
Open Fracture – An open fracture occurs when the skin breaks and the broken skull is visible or emerges from the opening.
Closed Fracture – In this fracture, the skin does not break open above the fracture site.
Depressed Fracture – A depressed fracture occurs when the skull becomes indented or extends into the brain cavity due to trauma.
Basal Fracture – This occurs in the floor of the skull, near the eyes, nose, ears or top of the spine.
Comminuted – This describes a skull fracture that is broken in three or more sections.
Linear – This describes a fracture that breaks in a straight line.
Diagnosing and Treating Skull Fractures
As we alluded to above, the best tool for a brain surgeon when diagnosing a severe head injury is an imaging test. An x-ray can provide a picture of the skull, and an MRI can provide an image of the bone and surrounding soft tissues, but the most common diagnostic option is a CT scan, which can provide a clearly detailed 3-D image of the skull and brain.
Treating a skull fracture is different than a fracture in other parts of your body, because casting your head isn’t really an option. This may come as a surprise, but as long as there is no further danger to the brain, in many cases, rest and time are the only treatment options needed for basic closed skull fractures. Over the counter or prescription medications may help to manage any discomfort, but pain isn’t usually all that debilitating for simple skull fractures.
Not all skull fractures are basic in nature, and some require surgery in order to protect the brain or ensure correct healing. The most common type of fracture that requires surgery is a depressed fracture, as the indentation could compress vital brain space. Many basal fractures can heal fine without surgery, but if the trauma also results in the leakage of cerebrospinal fluid, surgery to address the leak will be necessary.
Most skull fractures heal on their own just fine, so as long as the doctor isn’t concerned about related injuries to your brain, time and rest will be your main treatment options. Recovery varies from patient to patient, but they generally heal in about 6-8 weeks.
For more information about cranial fractures, or to talk with a head and spine specialist, reach out to Dr. Chang’s office today.