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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:

Head injuries may cause bleeding in the brain tissue and the layers that surround the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage, subdural hematomata extradural hematoma).

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 hit the inside of the skull and be bruised. The head may look fine, but problems could result from bleeding or swelling inside the skull.

The spinal cord is also likely to be injured in any serious trauma.

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.

A serious head injury that involves bleeding or brain damage must be treated in a hospital.

For a mild head injury, no treatment may be needed. However, watch for symptoms of a head injury, which can which can show up later.

Your health care provider will explain what to expect, how to manage any headaches, how to treat your other symptoms, when to return to sports, school, work, and other activities, and signs or symptoms to worry about.

  • Children will need to be watched and make activity changes.
  • Adults also need close observation and activity changes.

Both adults and children must follow the health care provider's instructions about when it will be possible to return to sports.

When to Contact a Medical Professional:

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.
References:

Heegaard WG, Biros MH, Head injury. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 41.

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: 1/13/2014
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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.

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