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Claremont Medical Practice

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Learn more about head injury: introduction

Minor head injuries are common in people of all ages and rarely result in any permanent brain damage.

If your child experiences a knock, bump or blow to the head, sit them down, comfort them, and make sure they rest. You can hold a cold compress to their head – try a bag of ice or frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel.

The symptoms of a minor head injury are usually mild and shortlived. They may include:

  • a mild headache
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • mild dizziness
  • mild blurred vision

If your child's symptoms get significantly worse, take them straight to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital or call 999 for an ambulance.

What to look out for

Signs of a brain injury after a head injury include:

  • unconsciousness – either brief (concussion) or for a longer period of time
  • fits or seizures
  • problems with the senses – such as hearing loss or double vision
  • repeated vomiting
  • blood or clear fluid coming from the ears or nose
  • memory loss (amnesia)

If any of these symptoms occur after a head injury, immediately go to your nearest A&E department or call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

How common are head injuries?

Each year around 700,000 people attend A&E departments with a head injury in England and Wales. Of these, more than 80% only have a minor injury.

The most common causes of head injuries are falls, assaults, and road traffic collisions.

Children are more likely to sustain a minor head injury because they're very active.

Treating a minor head injury

Most people who attend hospital with a minor head injury are allowed to return home shortly afterwards and will make a full recovery within a few days.

After attending hospital with a minor head injury, you'll usually be discharged fairly soon and be able to recover at home. Most people will make a full recovery in a few days.

For the first 24 hours after the injury, it's important for someone to stay with the injured person to keep an eye out for any new symptoms that develop.

It's also important to rest, avoid aggravating the injury with stressful situations, and avoid contact sports until fully recovered.

Mild headaches can be treated with paracetamol, but always read the manufacturer's instructions to ensure the correct dosage is taken. Don't give aspirin to children under the age of 16.

Read more about how to treat a minor head injury.

Preventing head injuries

It can be difficult to predict or avoid a head injury, but there are some steps you can take to help reduce the risk of more serious injury. These include:

  • wearing a safety helmet when cycling
  • reducing hazards in the home that may cause a fall
  • childproofing your home
  • using the correct safety equipment for work, sport and DIY

Read more about how to prevent a minor head injury.


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Learn more about head injury: symptoms

Minor head injuries often cause a bump or bruise. As long as the person is awake (conscious) and with no deep cuts, it's unlikely there will be any serious damage.

Other symptoms of a minor head injury may include:

  • a mild headache
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • mild dizziness
  • mild blurred vision

If these symptoms get significantly worse or if there are other, more serious symptoms, go straight to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital or call 999 to request an ambulance.

Close observation

If your child or someone you know has sustained a head injury, observe them closely for 24 hours to monitor whether their symptoms change or get worse.

If you've sustained a head injury, ask a friend or family member to stay with you for the next 24 hours to keep an eye on you.

If your child has a minor head injury, they may cry or be distressed. This is normal – with attention and reassurance most children will settle down. However, seek medical assistance if your child continues to be distressed.

Signs of a serious head injury

Seek immediate medical attention if, after a knock to the head, you notice any of these symptoms in either you or your child:

  • unconsciousness, either briefly or for a longer period of time
  • difficulty staying awake or still being sleepy several hours after the injury
  • clear fluid leaking from the nose or ears – this could be cerebrospinal fluid, which normally surrounds the brain
  • bleeding from one or both ears
  • bruising behind one or both ears
  • any sign of skull damage or a penetrating head injury
  • difficulty speaking, such as slurred speech
  • difficulty understanding what people say
  • reading or writing problems
  • balance problems or difficulty walking
  • loss of power or sensation in part of the body, such as weakness or loss of feeling in an arm or leg
  • general weakness
  • vision problems, such as significantly blurred or double vision
  • having a seizure or fit (when your body suddenly moves uncontrollably)
  • memory loss (amnesia), such as not being able to remember what happened before or after the injury
  • a persistent headache
  • vomiting since the injury
  • irritability or unusual behaviour

If any of these symptoms are present, particularly a loss of consciousness – even if only for a short period of time – go immediately to your local A&E department or call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

You should also go to hospital if someone has injured their head and:

  • the injury was caused by a forceful blow to the head at speed, such as being hit by a car or falling one metre or more
  • the person had brain surgery before 
  • the person has had problems with uncontrollable bleeding or a blood clotting disorder, or is taking medication that may cause bleeding problems, such as warfarin
  • the person is intoxicated by drugs or alcohol
  • it's possible the injury wasn't accidental – for example, you deliberately hurt yourself or someone else hurt you on purpose

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Learn more about head injury: treatment

You can usually recover from a minor head injury at home – but keep an eye out for any new symptoms that might develop.

If your child experiences a knock, bump or blow to the head, sit them down, comfort them, and make sure they rest. You can hold a cold compress to their head – try a bag of ice or frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel.

Seek immediate medical advice if symptoms such as mild dizziness and a headache get worse.

Read more about when you need to seek urgent medical attention.

Advice for adults

If you have a minor head injury:

  • ask someone to stay with you and keep within easy reach of a telephone and medical help for the first 48 hours after the injury
  • have plenty of rest and avoid stressful situations
  • don't drink alcohol or take recreational drugs
  • don't take sleeping pills, sedatives or tranquillisers (unless they're prescribed by your doctor)
  • take paracetamol if you have a mild headache, but avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, unless advised or prescribed by a doctor
  • don't play contact sport, such as football or rugby, for at least three weeks without talking to your doctor
  • don't return to work, college or school until you've completely recovered and feel ready
  • don't drive a car, motorbike or bicycle or operate machinery until you've completely recovered

When to seek medical attention

Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department if you develop any of the symptoms listed above.

See your GP for advice if you still have symptoms two weeks after the head injury or you're unsure about driving or returning to work.

Advice for children

If your child has a minor head injury:

  • give them paracetamol if they have a mild headache, but avoid NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and aspirin (aspirin should never be given to children under the age of 16)
  • avoid getting them too excited
  • don't have too many visitors
  • don't let them play contact sports, such as football or rugby, for at least three weeks without talking to your doctor
  • make sure they avoid rough play for a few days

When to seek medical attention

Take your child to A&E if their symptoms worsen or they develop any new symptoms.

See your GP for advice if your child still has symptoms two weeks after the head injury, or you're unsure about them returning to school or sport.


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Learn more about head injury: prevention

View video on this topic

Many head injuries are the result of accidents that are difficult to predict or avoid. But there are ways to reduce your risk.

Safety helmets

Cyclists and motorcyclists can protect their heads by wearing a properly fitting safety helmet. British Standard safety helmets are a legal requirement for motorcyclists.

Research commissioned by the Department for Transport found bicycle helmets "should be effective at reducing the risk of head injury".

However, it's difficult to know the benefit of cycle helmets for certain. This is because data about road accidents involving cyclists may not contain all of the relevant information.

For example, the data may not explain where exactly the head injury occurred, which makes it difficult to determine whether a helmet might have prevented the injury.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) all support the use of cycle helmets, and suggest they may help reduce head injuries.

As well as wearing a helmet when cycling, you should also make sure both you and your children:

  • use lights and wear reflective clothing when cycling in the dark
  • are aware of the dangers of the road and know how to stay safe
  • always follow the Highway Code
  • check bikes are in good working order

Read more cycling safety advice.

Safety in the home

Following sensible health and safety guidelines can help prevent accidents in the home. Advice that will help keep your home and garden as safe as possible includes:

  • keeping stairways tidy so you don't trip over anything
  • using appropriate safety equipment if you're doing any kind of DIY
  • not standing on an unstable chair to change a light bulb – use a stepladder instead
  • cleaning up any spillages to prevent someone slipping over

For more information, see the RoSPA website.

Childproofing your home

It's not possible to childproof your home completely. But you can take steps to keep toddlers and young children safe at home:

  • check windows are lockable and can't be opened by your child, particularly bedroom windows
  • move furniture, such as beds, sofas and chairs, away from windows to prevent your child climbing up and falling out 
  • fit safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs

Read more about preventing accidents to children in the home and teaching your child to stay safe.

Safety at work

To reduce the risk of sustaining a head injury at work, always follow any necessary health and safety guidelines. For example, you may have to wear a hard hat when working in potentially hazardous areas.

Only use ladders in a workplace environment for short-term light work. Any work that requires spending a considerable amount of time at height or involves heavy lifting should be carried out on scaffolding or another suitable platform.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides more information about the correct use of ladders in the workplace, including a list of common tasks that involve working at height.

Any work that involves going up on to a roof should also be considered high risk, and high standards of safety are therefore essential.

Sport safety

Wear any necessary safety equipment when playing sports, particularly contact sports. Don't play any contact sports for at least three weeks after a minor head injury without talking to your doctor first.


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Learn more about head injury: severe injury

Severe head injuries require immediate medical attention because there's a risk of serious brain damage.

This topic focuses on severe head injury. Read about minor head injuries.

Symptoms of a severe head injury can include:

  • unconsciousness – where a person has collapsed and is unresponsive, even for a brief period of time
  • concussion – a sudden but short-lived loss of mental function that occurs after a blow or other injury to the head; a person with concussion may have a glazed look or appear confused, but won’t necessarily be unconscious 
  • fits or seizures 
  • difficulty speaking or staying awake
  • problems with the senses such as hearing loss or double vision
  • repeated episodes of vomiting
  • blood or clear fluid coming from the ears or nose
  • memory loss (amnesia)
  • sudden swelling or bruising around both eyes or behind the ear
  • difficulty with walking or co-ordination

Dial 999 immediately to request an ambulance if you're with someone who experiences any of these symptoms after sustaining a head injury. Alternatively, take them immediately to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.

You should also go to hospital if someone has injured their head and:

  • the injury was caused by a forceful blow to the head at speed, such as being hit by a car or falling one metre or more
  • the person has had previous brain surgery
  • the person has had previous problems with uncontrollable bleeding or a blood clotting disorder, or is taking medication that may cause bleeding problems, such as warfarin
  • the person has been drinking alcohol or has taken drugs
  • the injury wasn't accidental – for example, you deliberately hurt yourself or someone else hurt you on purpose

Diagnosing a severe head injury

If you’ve had a severe head injury and there’s a chance you may have a brain injury, you’ll have a computerised tomography (CT) scan to assess the seriousness of the injury.

The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is often used to assess head injuries. This is a scale from 3 to 15 that identifies how serious your head injury is, based on your symptoms and whether the brain has been damaged (with 3 being most severe and 15 the least severe).

A GCS score of 13 or above would indicate a minor head injury. A score of 9 to 12 would be a moderate head injury. If a person has a severe head injury, they'll have a score of 8 or less.

Some people with significant head injuries have a high GCS score initially, but their score decreases when they're reassessed at a later stage.

If you have a severe head injury, you’ll be closely monitored and frequently reassessed to check your condition.

Read more about how severe head injuries are diagnosed.

Treating a severe head injury

Severe head injuries always require hospital treatment. This may involve:

  • observing the condition for any changes
  • running tests to check for further damage
  • treating any other injuries
  • breathing support (ventilation) or brain surgery

Most people are able to go home within 48 hours. However, a small number of those admitted to hospital require skull or brain surgery.

When you're discharged from hospital, your doctor will advise you on the best way to help your recovery when you return home.

Read more about how a severe head injury is treated and recovering from a severe head injury.

Complications

A severe head injury can result in pressure being placed on the brain because of bleeding, blood clots or a build-up of fluid. This can sometimes lead to brain damage, which can be temporary or permanent.

A severe head injury can also cause other potentially serious complications, including:

  • an infection after a skull fracture 
  • impaired consciousness
  • brain injury

Around 1 in every 2,000 people who attend an A&E department with a head injury dies as a result of their injury.

Read more about complications after a severe head injury.

Preventing head injuries

It can be difficult to predict or avoid a head injury, but there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of serious injury. These include:

  • ensuring your home (or those of elderly relatives) are free of trip hazards that could cause a fall, such as loose carpets or unnecessary items on the floor
  • "childproofing" your home – for example, by ensuring young children can’t reach windows or balconies
  • using the right safety equipment for work, sport and DIY

Wearing a safety helmet during certain activities, such as skiing or cycling, may also help to prevent a serious head injury.

Read more about cycle safetypreventing falls and preventing accidents to children in the home.



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Learn more about head injury: Preventing accidents at home