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Head Injury In Children


What causes a head injury?

A head injury is most often caused by a blow to the head. This may occur from a fall, a sports injury, or a motor vehicle accident. Forceful shaking may also cause a head injury.

What are the symptoms of a head injury?

Right after the injury, your child may be confused. Symptoms may last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks:

  • Mild to moderate headache
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Change in mood, such as feeling restless or irritable
  • Trouble thinking, remembering, or concentrating
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Short-term loss of newly learned skills, such as toilet training
  • Drowsiness or decreased amount of energy
  • Change in how your child sleeps

How is a head injury diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about the injury and your child's symptoms. Your child may need a neuro exam to check his brain function. Your child's healthcare provider will check how your child's pupils react to light. He will check your child's memory, hand grasp, and balance.

How is a head injury treated?

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.

How can I manage my child's head injury?

  • Rest or quiet activities will be needed for the first 24 hours. Your child may not be able to play sports or do activities that may result in a blow to the head. Ask when your child can return to his usual activities.
  • Ice helps decrease pain and swelling. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel, and place it on your child's injury for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as directed.
  • Wake your child during the night as directed. Ask him a few questions, such as his name or his favorite food, to see if he is alert.
  • Tell your child's teachers, coaches, or daycare providers about the injury and symptoms to watch for.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You cannot wake your child.
  • Your child has blood or clear fluid coming out of his ears or nose.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has repeated or forceful vomiting.
  • Your child does not know where he is, or does not recognize people who should be familiar.
  • Your child has blurry or double vision.
  • Your child's speech becomes slurred or confused.
  • Your child has a bulging soft spot on his head.
  • Your child has weakness, loss of feeling, or new problems with coordination.
  • Your child's pupils are unequal in size.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child stops responding to you or passes out.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child is harder to wake than usual.
  • Your child's symptoms get worse during the first few days after his injury.
  • Your child will not stop crying or will not eat.
  • Your child has headaches that are severe or get worse in the days after the injury.
  • Your child's symptoms last longer than 6 weeks after the injury.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.