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Injuries & Emergencies

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About Head Injuries

A head injury can be mild to severe. Symptoms can range from a headache to loss of consciousness. If a head injury does not affect the brain, it is considered minor.

Injury or trauma to the head can cause brain injury.  Brain injury, also known as traumatic brain injury or TBI, can cause swelling inside the brain. This can lead to a potentially deadly increase in pressure inside the skull.  It can also cause serious damage to brain cells. Each year in the U.S., head injuries result in over a million emergency room visits

Types

Head injuries can include the following conditions:

  • Scalp injuries

  • Skull fractures

  • Concussions (type of TBI)

  • Bruises of the brain

  • Tears of the brain

  • Buildup of blood in the brain or the brain and skull (intracranial hematoma)

  • Nerve cell damage in the brain

Causes

Head injuries can result from:

  • Motor vehicle accidents (most common)

  • Falls

  • Assaults

  • Sporting or recreational activities

Symptoms

Head injuries can cause a wide variety of symptoms, depending on the type, severity, and location of the injury. Sometimes, the signs and symptoms may not show up right away.

Mild head injury (brain isn't affected)

The person sustains some injury to the outside of the head, but he or she may not lose consciousness or may lose consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. The injured person may complain of:

  • Feeling dazed or light-headed

  • Bleeding, bruising, and/or tenderness of the scalp

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Irritability

A concussion  is sometimes called a head injury (minor to traumatic brain injury). A person may complain of changes in mental function without damage to the brain. A condition called postconcussion syndrome may occur after a concussion. Symptoms of postconcussion syndrome include headache, dizziness, fatigue, poor memory, problems concentrating or thinking, trouble sleeping, irritability, depression, and anxiety. 

Contact your healthcare provider about your head injury and symptoms.

Please note: Seek emergency care based on the severity of a person's symptoms.

Severe head injury

An injury to the outside of the head (due to a direct impact or blow) or forceful shaking of the head can cause serious damage to the brain.  A person usually loses consciousness. The area around the eyes may be a different color. A clear fluid may ooze from the nose or ear. 

They may complain of the following symptoms:

  • Memory loss

  • Severe headache

  • Dizziness

  • Drowsiness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Seizures

  • Not able to feel or move your arm or leg

  • Problems recognizing people or your surroundings,

  • Unable to control their balance

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Problems with vision

  • Clear fluid oozing from the nose or ear

  • Confusion

Please note: There may be serious damage to the outside of the head but external signs of trauma are not always visible. This person may have similar symptoms as those above only more severe. In most cases, the person is either unconscious or barely responsive.

Call 911 if a person is unconscious.

Seek emergency care based on the severity of the person's symptoms.

Treatment

Treatment is based on the type of head injury, symptoms, medical exam, and medical history.

Prevention

These recommendations can help prevent head injuries:

  • Never drink and drive.

  • Always wear a seat belt.  

  • Buckle your child into the appropriate child safety seat every time the child rides in a car.  

  • Always wear a helmet and proper gear when riding a motorcycle.

  • Wear the correct equipment and safety gear (especially head gear) when you’re riding a bike, skiing, snowboarding, playing football, riding horses, in-line skating, or in motor vehicles. Make sure it fits well.

  • Never work on a ladder if you feel dizzy or lightheaded.

  • Some medicines also can make you dizzy or affect your balance. Alcohol can also make you dizzy.

  • Poor vision can increase your risk for falls and other types of accidents. Have your vision checked at least once a year.

Online Medical Reviewer: Pierce-Smith, Daphne, RN, MSN, CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/10/2016
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