Basilar skull fracture
If there is a fracture or break in the cranial or skull bones, it is called a skull fracture. When the base of the skull is involved in a head injury, it is a basilar skull fracture or basal skull fracture. It is also known as depressed skull fracture and linear skull fracture. This linear fracture is rare and occurs in only 4% of patients with severe head injury. Falls, injuries caused by penetrating external objects like knives, hammers or axe or gunshot wounds may result in skull fractures. It can also occur when the skull hits a solid object with considerable force. Basilar skull fracture can be called a linear fracture at the base of the skull. Usually, dural tear is associated with this type of fracture. This fracture occurs at specific points on the skull base. While analyzing skull fractures, it is seen that 19-221% of all skull fractures happen to be basilar skull fractures.
There may be a traumatic brain injury when the skull is fractured. The area of the brain injured and the severity of injury is diagnosed by examining the fracture. If bacteria enter inside the skull through this fracture of the skull, it will lead to infection. Sudden blow to the back of the head can also result in a basilar skull fracture.
After a head injury, if there is a leak of a clear fluid from the nose or ears, it indicates that the clear fluid is cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that surrounds the brain. CSF drains out through the ears or nose, when the skull is fractured and the Meninges or the covering of the brain is torn. The typical nasal drainage due to allergies, cold or crying is different from this drainage of CSF. It is also an indication of a fracture of the frontal bone or the base of the skull i.e. sphenoid or temporal bone or of the ethmoid bones (bones that support the nose and sinuses).
If bleeding from the ears or nose is not due to a cut or a direct blow, it may be an indication of a fracture of the base of the skull. Determine the cause of the bleeding by washing the blood thoroughly and see if the bleeding is from a cut or not. Ascertain the source of bleeding from the ear. It is an indication of a skull fracture if a nose bleed does not stop with home treatment. If bruising or dislocation develops within 24 hours after a head injury, it also indicates a basilar skull fracture. Often bleeding within the skull may occur with a basilar skull fracture. This condition may lead to infection.
Diagnosis is made with laboratory check of the clear dripping fluid for the presence of CSF. A CT scan of the head with the focus on bones can reveal the extent of damage to the bones. CSF otorrhea and bruising over the mastoids commonly known as 'battle sign' is an indication of a fracture of the petrous temporal bone. Rhinorrhea and bruising around the eyes (raccoon eyes) are noticed with anterior cranial fossa fractures. Depending on an associated intracranial pathologic condition, the Glasgow Coma Score and loss of consciousness may differ from patient to patient. Temporary deafness is a possibility but it resolves in about three weeks.
Hemotympanum and mucosal edema in the middle ear fossa cause this temporary hearing loss. Basilar skull fractures sometimes leads to meningitis in some patients. If the bones around the foramen magnum are broken, there is a risk of damage to the blood vessels and nerves exiting the hole.
Head injuries account for approximately 70% of traumatic accident deaths. Intracranial hematoma plays an important role in the death and disability that are associated with head injury. Intracranial hematoma is a serious and possibly a life threatening condition that often requires immediate medical attention. Many patients with intracranial hematoma harbor mass lesions that require emergency decompression. Other causes include brain tumors, liver disease, autoimmune syndromes and bleeding disorders.
The human brain floats within the skull. It is surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid which cushions the brain from the bounces of everyday movements. Sometimes it becomes impossible for the fluid to absorb the force of a sudden blow or a quick stop. Under such situations, the brain may slide forcefully against the inner wall of the skull and get bruised. An intra-cranial hematoma occurs when the blood vessel ruptures between the skull and the brain. The blood leaks between the brain and the skull. This collection of blood, hematoma, which is possibly clotted, compresses the brain tissue. Some hematomas require surgery to remove the blood clot whereas some others can be treated without surgery.
Symptoms of intracranial hematoma include headache, nausea, vomiting, lethargy and slurred speech. The pupils may appear of unequal size. Memory loss is often associated with head trauma. One may even forget that they have suffered a blow. These symptoms of intracranial hematoma may occur either immediately or several weeks or months after a blow has been received in the head.
Injury in the head is the most common cause of intracranial hematoma. Among elderly persons, even a mild head trauma is more likely to cause a hematoma in the brain. Hematoma resulting from injury in the head is classified as:
Subdural hematoma: This occurs when the blood vessels, most often the veins rupture between the brain and the dura mater which is the outermost of three membrane layers that covers the brain. The blood that leaks forms a hematoma. This compresses the brain tissue. The danger here is that if the hematoma keeps growing then there is a progressive decline in consciousness and possible death. The risk of subdural hematoma is greater in people who use aspirin or other anticoagulants regularly. Alcoholics and very young and very old people also stand to be affected by subdural hematoma. All types of subdural hematomas require medical attention as soon as the symptoms become apparent. Other wise permanent brain damage may be the result.
Epidural hematoma: This type of hematoma occurs when the blood vessel, usually the artery, ruptures between the surface of the dura mater and the skull. Morbidity and mortality from epidural hematoma is substantial unless immediate medical attention is given. The cause of epidural hematoma is most of the time road automobile accidents or any other traumatic injuries.
Intraparenchymal hematoma: When blood pools in the white matter of the brain, Intraparenchymal hematoma occurs. There may be multiple severe Intraparenchymal hematomas after a head trauma. Serious brain damage can occur, as the neurons can no longer communicate.
A physician may find it difficult to diagnose intracranial hematoma, as it may not be immediately apparent. It is better to seek medical advice after any significant blow has been received to the head and if the patient has lost consciousness or experiences symptoms such as headache, lethargy, nausea and vomiting. A CT scan or MRI scan is suggested to define the position and size of a hematoma.
After a head injury, doctors use medications such as corticosteroids and diuretics to control the edema in the brain after head injury. Often surgery is required. If the blood clot is localized and there is no excessive clotting, then perforation is made through the skull and the liquid is removed by suction. Large hematomas require opening of a section of the skull to remove blood clots.
It is essential to wear appropriate safety equipment and gadgets during sports, including helmet when riding, motorcycling, horseback riding, skating or doing any other activity that may result in injury to head. Chances of motor vehicle accidents can be minimized by wearing a seat belt.
Plagiocephaly is 'a malformation of the head marked by an oblique slant to the main axis of the skull'. This condition is characterized by an asymmetrical distortion or flattening of one side of the skull. Positional or deformational plagiocephaly is known as 'flattened head syndrome' and this results from a preferential lying on one side of the head. Plagiocephaly is also common at birth, resulting from a restrictive intrauterine. The unusual head shape in plagiocephaly is caused by the pressure in the womb giving a diamond shaped head when observed from above. In some pronounced cases of plagiocephaly, there may occur flattening of one side of the chest as well.
Some other factors that increase the risk of plagiocephaly are multiple birth pregnancy where there is the risk of the babies squashing together in the womb. Prematurity, poor muscle tone and the Oligohydramnios condition with insufficient fluid in the womb to cushion the baby and torticollis or wryneck are other risk factors involved. In fact, nearly 15 to 25% of plagiocephalic children have torticollis. Frequent use of car seats, bouncy seats, infant swings are other contributory lifestyle factors to a baby where the back of head is flat.
Common symptoms of plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome include bald spot on the flattened side of an asymmetrical head, eyes appearing to have unequal positioning, flattening on one side of the back of the head with a compensatory bulge in the forehead on the same side, a parallelogram shaped head when viewed from above, where the back of the head is flat. Certain functional problems could occur at a later stage in life as a result of this deformity. These problems could involve vision, hearing, temporomandibular joint and developmental delay.
Treatment methodology advised by therapist to parents would include: to alternate the position or direction of the baby's head when sleeping, a tummy time of 15 minutes daily which will help take the pressure off the back of the skull, carrying the baby in a position that he/she can turn and look at both directions, dry the baby while the are on their tummy, allow infant to take supervised nap on the tummy for better head molding, avoid putting infants in a bouncy seat, car seat, sling or on a flat surface to dissuade constant pressure on one area of the skull.
However, it is imperative to distinguish between abnormal head shape caused by positioning and abnormal head shape caused by premature closure of cranial sutures, known as craniosynostosis. While positional deformation can be corrected without surgery, synostotic abnormal head shapes do require surgery. If left untreated, these children with moderate to severe plagiocephaly would experience other medical issues later in life.
Bibliography / Reference
Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: February 17, 2019