Temporal bone fracture: Evaluation in the era of modern computed tomography

Injury. 2016 Sep;47(9):1893-7. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2016.06.026. Epub 2016 Jun 22.


Background: Temporal bone fractures (TBFs) are harbingers of high energy head trauma that can result in a variety of significant complications of the auditory, vestibular, nervous, and vascular systems. Multiple cohort studies have identified the incidence and proper evaluation of these fractures. We hypothesize that these have changed with the advent of modern high resolution computer tomography (CT) imaging.

Methods: We performed a retrospective review of all TBFs admitted to an urban level one trauma center between June 1, 2011 and May 31, 2015. A database was compiled including demographics, physical exam findings, imaging performed and results, morphology and directionality of fracture as well as outcomes and follow-up.

Results: One hundred thirteen patients were identified, representing 4.7% of skull fractures and 35.9% of skull base fractures. Most were subsequent to falls (41.6%) followed by pedestrian vehicular trauma (19.5%). The majority of TBF patients (67.3%) had additional fractures of the skull and 77.9% of TBF patients also had some kind of intracranial hemorrhage. The morphology of TBF and the overall mortality (7.9%) was consistent with previous reports. The incidence of facial nerve paralysis (1.6%), CSF leak (1.7%), and hearing loss (18.6%) were all lower than previously reported. Trauma imaging was able to identify 98.6% of TBF, calling the utility of routine temporal bone CT imaging into question.

Conclusion: TBFs are less common than they once were and though they still carry a mortality rate similar to previously reported cohorts, the incidence of complications among survivors has dramatically improved. Additionally, modern CT imaging is very capable of identifying these injuries and dedicated temporal bone CT may only be of utility in cases where facial nerve injury or vascular injury is suspected.

Level of evidence: Epidemiologic study, Level III.

Keywords: Cerebrospinal fluid leak; Diagnosis; Facial nerve injury; Head injury; Hearing loss; Temporal bone fracture.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cochlea / diagnostic imaging
  • Cochlea / injuries
  • Cranial Nerve Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cranial Nerve Diseases / etiology
  • Ear, Inner / diagnostic imaging
  • Ear, Inner / injuries
  • Facial Nerve Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Facial Nerve Injuries / etiology
  • Female
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Hearing Loss, Sensorineural / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multidetector Computed Tomography*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skull Fractures / complications
  • Skull Fractures / diagnostic imaging*
  • Skull Fractures / pathology
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / diagnostic imaging*
  • Temporal Bone / diagnostic imaging*
  • Temporal Bone / injuries
  • Temporal Bone / pathology
  • Trauma Centers*
  • United States
  • Vertigo / etiology