Any injury to the head should be treated as serious until it’s been determined that it’s not. Even if there is no blood or visible mark, a blow to the head can cause intracranial bleeding, which can cause serious and permanent injury. Knowing the appropriate response to different types of head injuries can be a crucial first step in getting the correct treatment. However, if there is any question in your mind about how serious a head injury is, contact emergency services immediately.
A skull fracture is often caused by heavy machinery, vehicle collisions with unprotected pedestrians, or a deliberate act of violence, though there are many other causes, especially with children. Symptoms of a skull fracture include:
- Clear fluid or blood running from nose or ears
- Bruising around the eyes (sometimes called “panda eyes” or “raccoon eyes”)
- Loss of consciousness
- A lump, dent, bruising, or swelling of the head and/or extreme pain at the site of the injury
- Confusion, disorientation, or dizziness
- Headache, nausea, or vomiting
If you suspect a skull fracture, call emergency services immediately. Move the victim as little as possible. If you can do it without moving the head, stabilize the head and neck. Stay with the person until emergency services arrive. If they are conscious, do what you can to help them stay calm.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
A TBI is usually caused by heavy impact to the skull. It is most often caused by falls, vehicular collisions, extreme sports, or deliberate violence, though it can be caused by something that doesn’t cause direct contact, such as an explosion or even violent shaking, for example, of a small child. As the name suggests, there has likely been direct and serious damage to the brain tissue, including serious concussion, bleeding, or clotting in the brain. However, sometimes people with a milder TBI don’t realize they have an injury immediately, and they may experience symptoms later or in an ongoing fashion. Symptoms of a TBI include:
- Enlargement of one or both pupils or loss of vision in one or both eyes
- Loss of consciousness for a few minutes up to hours
- Convulsions or seizures
- Inability to wake from sleep
- Headache that continually gets worse or won’t go away
- Repeated vomiting and continual nausea
- Increased confusion, agitation, or restlessness
- Slurred speech or inability to find words
- Numbness in arms or legs or uncoordinated movement
If you suspect a TBI has just happened, call emergency services immediately. Move the victim as little as possible. If you can do it without moving the head, stabilize the head and neck. If they are conscious, do what you can to help them stay calm. If the TBI seems to have happened in the past but symptoms are continuing, get the person to an urgent care center as soon as possible.
A concussion is often characterized as a mild form of TBI. It is usually caused by a blow to the head or violent shaking of the body and is a common sports injury. Symptoms include loss of consciousness (even for a moment), appearing dazed or stunned, and having no memory of what happened before and/or after the event. If you suspect a concussion, or even if someone has received a blow to the head that you’re concerned about, get the person to an urgent care center or emergency room as soon as possible.
Blunt Injury to Head
Bumps and bruises to the head are common, especially among children. The skull and the fluid surrounding the brain are great protectors and, usually, these types of injuries are mild with no lasting effects. Some common symptoms of a minor head injury include a mild headache, nausea, mild dizziness, and possibly blurred vision for a short time. However, if there are any of the above-mentioned symptoms that lead you to believe the person has suffered a concussion or something more serious, call your healthcare provider or take them to an urgent care center. With head injuries, it’s always better to err on the safe side!
Cuts to Head or Face
There are lots of blood vessels to the face and head. So if you get a cut in these areas, there can be lots of blood! Apply pressure to stop the bleeding so you can evaluate the damage. Some reasons to go to the urgent care center or emergency room for a cut on the head or face include:
- The cut is deeper or wider than ½ inch, won’t stop bleeding after about 10 minutes, or is gaping to the point where you can see tissues inside. This type of cut may need stitches.
- Something is still inside the tissues from the cut and needs to be removed.
- The wound was caused by a bite (human or animal) and may need to be treated for infection. The person may also need an updated tetanus vaccination.
- The cut is on the face and may need cosmetic attention.
If the injury does not fall into any of the above categories, you are most likely okay to treat the wound at home.
Injuries to the head are common, especially among children. Serious injuries to the head are less common but need immediate attention. If you are concerned about a head injury, trust your instincts and get help. An easy way to avoid head injuries is to be sure to wear protective gear when participating in any sports activities.