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What is a Skull Fracture?

By Nat Robinson
Updated May 17, 2024
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A skull fracture is generally defined as a separation in the skull. Skull fractures may include or exclude injury to the brain. If the brain is injured, this can result in bleeding, which can cause numerous neurological impairments. Not all skull fractures are this severe, as there are different types of cranial fractures. Treatment for this injury will typically depend on severity of symptoms and the type of fracture present.

There are many possible causes of a skull fracture. Generally, any blunt force to the head can potentially fracture the skull. This is commonly done in automobile accidents, with a hard fall or from an assault. Individuals frequently participating in sports activities often suffer this injury. For this reason, athletes are usually advised to wear some type of protective gear for the head.

Skull fractures are unique in that there are different kinds of this type of head injury. If the skull is sunken in as a result of the trauma, the condition is known as a depressed skull fracture. The sinking of the bone fragments can place a significant amount of pressure on the brain. In severe cases, the brain may potentially be punctured by the fragments. Under these circumstances, this injury can become a life threatening situation.

Some people with noninvasive depressed skull fractures may not need surgery, however, it can be necessary in many cases. The surgery can be used to release pressure from the brain, which may be caused by displaced bones. This will also present an opportunity to remove any foreign objects from the brain. If the brain is not injured, surgery may only be needed for cosmetic purposes. Usually, this will mean repairing the damaged skull.

A basilar skull fracture occurs when injury is done to the base of the skull. This type of injury is typically a rare occurrence. In most cases, a basilar fracture will heal on its own and surgery is not generally needed, expect in the event of severe brain injury. Unlike most general depressed fractures, a basilar fracture may additionally damage structures other than the skull and brain. For instance, the sinuses can also be injured by this fracture.

Skull fracture symptoms typically vary from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms include headaches, facial pain, bruising, confusion and difficulty maintaining balance. There can also be vision and hearing problems immediately following the injury or in the days after it. It is possible to loose consciousness as the result of a fracture. Some of the most serious symptoms can include bleeding within the brain, from the eyes, nose or ears and leakage of cerebrospinal fluid.

It is important to get medical attention as soon as possible for a person with a skull fracture. Doctors will generally be quick to order diagnostic tests, which will provide the most detailed views of the brain and skull. A computerized tomography (CT) scan may be used to provide detailed cross sectional views of the head. An alternative test is a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which is sometimes more preferred, because it can provide excellent views of connecting nerves and tissues, in addition to organs.

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Discussion Comments

By Roguerrilla — On Nov 07, 2014

Hi HonorLamb. The symptoms actually are different than those in an adult. For kids less than two years of age—who are too young to communicate may present in swelling, irritability and “tired” eyes. As a parent, you’ll know if things aren’t quite right, I think. With older children, there may be marked confusion, complaints of ringing in the ears, dizziness, issues with balance and sensitivity to light. If you suspect anything is amiss, I would suggest getting it checked out by a pediatrician immediately.

By HonorLamb — On Nov 06, 2014

Do the symptoms and recovery times for fractures of the skull in a young person differ from those of an adult?

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