Initial evaluation and management of gunshot wounds to the face

J Trauma. 1998 Jul;45(1):39-41. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199807000-00007.


Background: The literature on early management of gunshot wounds (GSWs) to the face is scant, with only six series reported in the English-language literature in the last 12 years. In the current study, we present a large series from a busy trauma center in an effort to identify early diagnostic and therapeutic problems and recommend management guidelines.

Methods: Retrospective analysis was done for all GSWs of the face during a 4-year period. Data were obtained from the Trauma Registry and Trauma Patient Summary hard copies.

Results: During the study period, there were 4,139 admissions for GSWs, with 247 (6%) involving the face. An associated brain trauma was found in 42 patients (17.0%), and cervical spine fracture was found in 20 patients (8.1%) with GSWs to the face. In 43 patients (17.4%), there was a need for emergency airway control because of local hematoma or edema. Angiography was performed in 70 patients (28.3%) for evaluation of a large hematoma or continuous bleeding, and in 10 of these patients successful embolization of bleeders was achieved. No patient required operative control of bleeding from facial structures. Overall, only 96 patients (38.9%) underwent operation for soft-tissue repair or reduction of facial bone fractures. There were 36 deaths (14.5%) from severe brain injury or severe bleeding from associated chest or abdominal injuries. No death occurred in isolated GSWs to the face.

Conclusion: Most civilian GSWs can safely be managed nonoperatively. Airway control is required in a significant number of patients and should be established very early. Bleeding from the face is best controlled angiographically. The brain and cervical spine should be aggressively assessed radiologically because of the high incidence of associated trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Protocols
  • Emergency Treatment / methods
  • Facial Injuries / mortality*
  • Facial Injuries / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Los Angeles
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Trauma Centers
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wounds, Gunshot / mortality*
  • Wounds, Gunshot / therapy*