Skull Fracture

With the majority of sports activities comes the risk of a major blow to the head, which often results in a skull fracture. Protecting the head is a high priority amongst sports professionals, therefore protective equipment for the head is required for a vast number of sports, from abseiling to horse riding. However, despite the range of protective equipment available, a blow to the head or skull fracture is sometimes unavoidable.

What is a skull fracture?

Skull fractures can be of two different types:

  • The first of which is known as a closed break. A closed break refers to a simple, clean break in the bone that does not affect the skin or bone covering, known as the periosteum.
  • The second is referred to as a compound or open break that breaks both the bone and periosteum.

If the skull fracture is severe, the soft tissue (which includes muscles, tendons, skin and nerves) neighbouring the skull can be damaged. Also, in very severe cases there is a possibility that bone fragments can be projected into the brain, causing further damage.

What are the symptoms?

There are a large number of tell-tale signs when pin pointing a skull fracture, these include:

  • Headache
  • Confusion, drowsiness (also typical signs of a concussion)
  • Temporary or long-term loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting, sickness
  • Swelling and pain in the affected area
  • Blurred vision
  • Swelling and bruising around the eyes and nose
  • Paralysis or weakness of the facial area

How is a skull fracture diagnosed?

Diagnosis can be made initially by your GP, you will be required to give a list of symptoms made by your own diagnostic measures and if these are considered serious you will be referred to a hospital environment. Subsequent to this you will undergo a number of tests including; X-Rays of the head and neck (in order to investigate the amount of damage to the soft tissue) and possibly a CAT scan of the head.

Can a skull fracture be prevented?

The only method of prevention is to wear protective head equipment where necessary. Especially in sports where there is a possibility of falling, for example horse riding or rock climbing.

Are there any long-term side effects?

The majority of skull fractures (if assessed and treated immediately) can be completely healed within four to six weeks however, several complications can occur:

  • A collection of blood (or Hematoma) can develop, creating pressure on the brain. This can lead to brain damage or even death depending on the severity of the initial injury.
  • Infection during the healing process, which is usually easily treated.

How is a skull fracture treated?

There are various treatments for a skull fracture depending on the severity of the initial injury. For a small scale injury simple medications may be administered. For example, steroid medicines may be given in order to reduce swelling and soreness. Steroids will also treat nerve damage caused by the injury and aid any weakness or paralysis. Also simple pain killers such as Paracetamol may be prescribed for any pain.

If the injury is more serious measures such as surgery may be considered. If the initial blow to the head left an open wound surgery may be required to remove any damaged soft tissue or bone fragments. Injuries to the brain, blood vessels and nerves can also be treated with surgery. Antibiotics may then be given after surgery in order to prevent any infection developing.

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