Search Encyclopedia:    
List of Topics Print This Page
 

Head injury - first aid


Alternative Names:

Brain injury; Head trauma

Causes:

Common causes of head injury include:

  • Accidents at home, work, outdoors, or while playing sports
  • Falls
  • Physical assault
  • Traffic accidents

Most of these injuries are minor because the skull protects the brain. Some injuries are severe enough to require a stay in the hospital.

Symptoms:

Symptoms of a head injury can occur right away. Or symptoms develop slowly over several hours or days. Even if the skull is not fractured, the brain can bang against the inside of the skull and be bruised. The head may look fine, but problems could result from bleeding or swelling inside the skull.

In any serious head trauma, the spinal cord is also likely to be injured.

Some head injuries cause changes in brain function. This is called a traumatic brain injury. Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. Symptoms of a concussion can range from mild to severe. 

Do Not:
  • Do NOT wash a head wound that is deep or bleeding a lot.
  • Do NOT remove any object sticking out of a wound.
  • Do NOT move the person unless absolutely necessary.
  • Do NOT shake the person if he or she seems dazed.
  • Do NOT remove a helmet if you suspect a serious head injury.
  • Do NOT pick up a fallen child with any sign of head injury.
  • Do NOT drink alcohol within 48 hours of a serious head injury.
Call immediately for emergency medical assistance if:

Call 911 right away if:

  • There is severe head or face bleeding
  • The person is confused, tired, or unconscious
  • The person stops breathing
  • You suspect a serious head or neck injury, or the person develops any signs or symptoms of a serious head injury
Home Care:

Friends or family may need to keep an eye on adults who have been injured after they are released from the emergency room or office. If the person is an athlete, follow the health care provider's instructions about when the person can return to sports.

Parents or caregivers of children will need to learn how to keep an eye on the child after a head injury. Follow the health care provider's instructions on when the child can go back to being active and playing sports.

After even a mild concussion do not do activities that can cause further head injury. Avoid tasks that require concentration or complicated thinking. These include reading, homework, preparing reports, and other kinds of brain stimulation. Also avoid bright lights and loud sounds. These can overstimulate the brain. Your health care provider can tell you more.

Follow-Up:

Keep all follow-up appointments with your health care provider. These help make sure you or your child is recovering well.

References:

Biros MH, Heegaard WG. Head injury. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2009:chap 38.

Landry GL. Head and neck injuries. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW III, et al., eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics.19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 680.


Review Date: 1/1/2013
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

   View History
  Head injury - first aid

   
   

 

About UPHS   Contact Us   Site Map   Privacy Statement   Legal Disclaimer   Terms of Use

The University of Pennsylvania Health System, Philadelphia, PA 1-800-789-PENN © 2014, The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania