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Head Injuries

What Are Head Injuries?

A head injury is an injury to the scalp, skull, or brain. Many head injuries are mild, like a bump on the head. But others are more serious and need medical care right away.

What Causes Head Injuries?

Head injuries in kids and teens can happen from:

What Are the Types of Head Injuries?

Head injuries include:

  • lacerations: a cut on the scalp
  • contusions: a bruise of the scalp
  • concussions: a brain injury that affects the way the brain works and leads to symptoms such as headache, dizziness, and confusion
  • a hematoma or hemorrhage: bleeding around or inside the brain
  • skull fractures: a break in the skull bone

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Head Injury?

Symptoms depend on the type of injury. For a mild head injury, the only symptom may be a little pain. If the skin is broken, the scalp may bleed. More serious head injuries may cause someone to pass out, feel dizzy, or vomit.

How Are Head Injuries Diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose head injuries by asking how the injury happened and doing a careful exam of the head. If there was bleeding, sometimes they’ll use stiches or staples to close the scalp wound.

Diagnosing most mild head injuries can be done without medical tests. Doctors may order a CAT scan or other imaging study of the head for more serious injuries.

What Should I Do if My Child Has a Serious Head Injury?

Call 911 if your child has a head injury and they:

  • lose consciousness (pass out)
  • can’t respond to you
  • have changes in vision
  • have a serious wound or one that bleeds a lot
  • have blood or clear fluid coming from their nose or ear
  • have changes in behavior, such as agitation, confusion, or being very sleepy
  • are dizzy or stumbling
  • have a seizure
  • vomit more than twice or vomit hours after the injury
  • have weakness or numbness/tingling in both arms or legs
  • have neck pain or tenderness

If your child isn’t breathing, do CPR if you know how. If there is bleeding, hold firm pressure on it until it stops. Do not move your child unless they are in an unsafe place and might get injured more. If your child is wearing a helmet or other sports equipment, don’t try to take it off.

What Should I Do if My Child Has a Less Severe Head Injury?

If your child has a head injury, even if it seems mild, they should stop the activity they are doing (including sports). Call your doctor, who will talk to you about the injury and symptoms and decide if your child needs medical care.

Trust your instincts. You know your child best. If you think they don’t look or seem right, call your doctor or 911.

What Can Help Prevent Head Injuries?

Not all head injuries can be prevented. But it’s always wise to:

  • Make sure kids wear a helmet when skiing, snowboarding, biking, riding a scooter, skateboarding, or rollerblading. A head injury can still happen, but the helmet can protect them from a skull fracture and serious brain injury.
  • Have kids use any safety equipment specific to their sport.
  • Have kids use the proper car seat, booster seat, and/or seatbelts every time they're in a car.
  • Childproof your home.
  • Use playgrounds that have soft ground surfaces like mulch (not dirt or concrete).
  • Talk to coaches to make sure that all teams your kids play on have rules to reduce the risk of head injuries and concussions, such as limits on tackling (football) or heading the ball (soccer). Also make sure that the coach will take your child out of play if a head injury happens.
  • Talk to your kids about never hiding a head injury. They should stop the sport or activity that caused the head injury and go to a parent, coach, or teacher right away.

Reviewed by: Brian Daniels, MD
Date Reviewed: Jul 10, 2023

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