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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, bicycle injury, sports injury, or a motor vehicle accident. Forceful shaking may also cause a head injury.

What are the symptoms of a head injury?

Your child may have an open wound, swelling, or bruising on his or her head. 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 an exam to check his or her brain function. Your child's healthcare provider will check how your child's pupils react to light. The provider will check your child's memory, hand grasp, and balance.
  • Your child may need a CT scan to check for bleeding or major damage to his or her skull or brain. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell a healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.

How is a head injury treated?

Your child may be given medicine to decrease pain. Other treatments may depend on how severe your child's head injury is.

How can I manage my child's head injury?

  • Have your child rest or do quiet activities for 24 hours or as directed. Limit your child's time watching TV, playing video games, using the computer, or doing schoolwork. Do not let your child play sports or do activities that may result in a blow to the head. Your child should not return to sports until the provider says it is okay. Your child will need to return to sports slowly.
  • Apply ice on your child's head for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel before you apply it to your child's skin. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Watch your child closely for 48 hours or as directed. Sometimes symptoms of a severe head injury do not show up for a few days. Wake your child every 3 hours during the night or as directed. Ask your child his or her name or favorite food. These questions will help you monitor your child's brain function.
  • Tell your child's teachers, coaches, or daycare providers about the injury and symptoms to watch for. Ask your child's teachers to let him or her have extra time to finish schoolwork or exams.

How can I help prevent another head injury?

  • Have your child wear a helmet that fits properly. Helmets help decrease your child's risk of a serious head injury. Your child should wear a helmet when he or she plays sports, or rides a bike, scooter, or skateboard. Talk to your child's healthcare provider about other ways you can protect your child during sports.
  • Have your child wear a seat belt or sit in a child safety seat in the car. This decreases your child's risk for a head injury if he or she is in a car accident. Ask your child's healthcare provider for more information about child safety seats.
    Child Safety Seat
  • Secure heavy or large items in your home. This includes bookshelves, TVs, dressers, cabinets, and lamps. Make sure these items are held in place or nailed into the wall. Heavy or large items can fall and hit your child in the head.
  • Place gates at the top and bottom of stairs. Always make sure that the gate is closed and locked. Gates will help protect your child from falling and getting a head injury.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • You cannot wake your child.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child stops responding to you or faints.
  • Your child has blurry or double vision.
  • Your child's speech becomes slurred or confused.
  • Your child has weakness, loss of feeling, or problems walking.
  • Your child's pupils are larger than usual or one pupil is a different size than the other.
  • Your child has blood or clear fluid coming out of his or her ears or nose.

When should I call my child's pediatrician?

  • Your child's headache or dizziness gets worse or becomes severe.
  • Your child has repeated or forceful vomiting.
  • Your child is confused.
  • Your child has a bulging soft spot on his or her head.
  • Your child is harder to wake than usual.
  • Your child will not stop crying or will not eat.
  • 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 healthcare providers 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.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 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 IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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