A skull fracture is any break in the cranial bone, also known as the skull. There are many types of
skull fractures, but only one major cause: an impact or a blow to the head that’s
strong enough to break the bone. An injury to the brain can also accompany the
fracture, but that’s not always the case.
A fracture isn’t always easy to see. However, symptoms that can
indicate a fracture include:
- swelling and tenderness around the area of
- facial bruising
- bleeding from the nostrils or ears
Treatment depends on the severity of the fracture. Pain
medication may be the only treatment necessary in mild fractures, while neurosurgery
may be required for more serious injuries.
Types of Skull Fractures
The type of skull fracture depends on the force of the blow, the
location of the impact on the skull, and the shape of the object making impact
with the head. A pointier object is more likely to penetrate the skull than a hard
surface, such as the ground. Different types of fractures lead to differing
levels of injury and trauma.
With a closed fracture, also called a simple fracture, the skin
that covers the fracture area isn’t broken or cut.
Also known as a compound
fracture, an open fracture occurs when the skin is broken and the bone
This refers to a fracture that causes the skull to indent or
extend into the brain cavity.
A basal fracture occurs in the floor of the skull: the areas
around the eyes, ears, nose, or back, near the spine.
In addition to the above types, fractures can also classify as:
- linear (in
a straight line)
- greenstick (incomplete)
- comminuted (broken
into three or more sections)
Causes of Skull
A skull fracture occurs when a force that is strong enough to
break the bone hits the skull. Any type of impact to the head can cause a skull
fracture, including being hit with an object, falling and hitting the ground,
injuring the head in a car accident, or any other type of trauma.
Symptoms of Skull
In some cases, as in an open or depressed fracture, it may be
easy to see that the skull is broken. Sometimes, though, the fracture isn’t
Serious symptoms of a skull fracture include:
from the wound caused by the trauma, near the location of the trauma, or around
the eyes, ears, and nose
around the trauma site, under the eyes, or behind the ears
pain at the trauma site
at the trauma site
or warmth at the trauma site
Less severe symptoms, or those that may not necessarily appear to
be related to a skull fracture, may include:
not reacting to light
Diagnosis of Skull
A doctor may be able to diagnose a fracture by simply performing
a physical examination of the head. However, it’s useful to diagnose the extent
and exact nature of the damage, which requires more exact diagnostic tools.
Doctors can use various imaging techniques to get a clearer
picture of the kind of fracture you have and how far it extends. X-rays and
magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) are typical methods for imaging the body and
can help to diagnose skull fractures. An X-ray penetrates soft tissue and provides
an image of the bone. An MRI produces an image of the bone and soft tissue,
allowing a doctor to see both the skull fracture and the brain.
The most common tool used is a computerized tomography scan (CT
or CAT scan. This technique usually provides the clearest picture of the
fracture and any damage to the brain because it produces a 3-D image.
Treatment of Skull
Treatment for a skull fracture depends on several factors. A
doctor will take into consideration the person’s age, health, and medical
history, as well as the type of fracture, its severity, and any resulting brain
In some cases, such as in basal skull fractures, medication to
control pain may be all the patient needs. The skull will heal itself in a
majority of these instances. However, a basal fracture may require surgery if
it results in excessive leakage of cerebrospinal fluid from the nose and ears.
Surgery is more often a required course of treatment for
depressed skull fractures. If the depression is severe enough, surgery may be necessary
to correct it. Surgery may also be necessary if the depression puts pressure on
the brain or if there is cerebrospinal fluid leakage.
Prevention of Skull
Skull fractures can often be prevented. Wearing protective
headgear when riding bicycles or participating in other sports in which head
injuries are possible, such as football and rock climbing, can prevent a skull