Most injuries to the head are
minor. Bumps, cuts, and scrapes on the head and face usually heal well and can
be treated the same as injuries to other parts of the body. Minor cuts on the
head often bleed heavily because the face and scalp have many blood vessels
close to the surface of the skin. Often the injury is not severe, and you can stop the bleeding with home treatment.
Many head injuries can be prevented. Use
seat belts and helmets, and make your home safe to prevent falls.
Common causes of serious head injuries in adults include:
Head injuries that involve force are more likely to cause a
serious injury to the brain. A
high-energy injury to the head increases the
likelihood of a serious injury even more. Be sure to evaluate the
person for signs and symptoms of a head injury after a fall or other type of
It is sometimes hard to tell the difference
concussion and a more serious
head injury. A person with a concussion may appear
dazed, stare blankly, or cry for no apparent reason. Nausea, vomiting,
headache, or dizziness may be present. A visit to a doctor is needed anytime
mild symptoms persist. Even if a visit to a doctor is not needed, watch anyone
who has had a head injury carefully for at least 24 hours to see whether signs
of a serious head injury develop.
Occasionally, after a head injury
you may feel as if you are not functioning as well as you did before the injury
(postconcussive syndrome). You may have blurred vision,
headache, nausea, vomiting, forgetfulness, or trouble concentrating. Some
people have problems with balance and coordination and personality changes.
These changes may be related to stress from the events around the accident
that caused the injury or from the injury itself. Many people have symptoms for
as long as 3 months after a head injury, and some even have problems for as
long as a year afterward.
When a head injury has occurred, look
for other injuries to other parts of the body that also may need attention.
Trouble breathing, shock, spinal injuries, and severe bleeding are all
life-threatening injuries that may occur along with a head injury and require
immediate medical attention.
Injuries to the spine, especially the neck, must be
considered when there has been a head injury.
symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need
or other emergency services now.
Put direct, steady pressure on the
wound until help arrives. Keep the area raised if you can.
Based on your answers, you need
Do not move the person unless there is an immediate threat to the person's life, such as
a fire. If you have to move the person, keep the head and neck supported and in
a straight line at all times. If the person has had a diving accident and is
still in the water, float the person face up in the water.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Symptoms of a serious head injury may
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Other symptoms related to a head injury that may appear later include:
Symptoms of a skull fracture may
Symptoms of a spinal cord injury in an
adult or older child may include:
With severe bleeding, any of these may
With moderate bleeding, any of these may
With mild bleeding, any of these may be
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur
after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock (most of which will be present) include:
Home treatment for a head injury is
only appropriate if there was no
loss of consciousness or inability to recall current
events (amnesia) after the injury. If either loss of
consciousness or amnesia has occurred, check your
symptoms to determine when to see your doctor.
Many minor head injuries that do
not involve loss of consciousness or amnesia may be treated at home. A person
who has had a head injury should be watched for any problems
from the injury. Home treatment can also help relieve swelling and bruising of the
skin or scalp and pain caused by a minor head injury.
If a visit to your doctor is not needed immediately:
If vomiting occurs:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
November 16, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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