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Head Injury

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Nov 5, 2023.

What do I need to know about a head injury?

A head injury can include your scalp, face, skull, or brain and range from mild to severe. Effects can appear immediately after the injury or develop later. The effects may last a short time or be permanent. Healthcare providers may want to check your recovery over time. Treatment may change as you recover or develop new health problems from the head injury.

What are the signs and symptoms of a head injury?

  • An open scalp or skin wound, swelling, or bruising
  • Mild to moderate headache
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Ringing in the ears or neck pain
  • Confusion, especially right after the injury
  • Change in mood, such as feeling restless or irritable
  • Trouble thinking, remembering, or concentrating
  • Drowsiness or decreased amount of energy
  • Trouble sleeping

How is a head injury diagnosed?

  • Tell your healthcare provider about your injury and symptoms. The provider will do an exam to check your brain function. He or she will check how your pupils react to light. He or she will check your memory, hand grasp, and balance.
  • You may need x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI to check for bleeding or major damage to your skull or brain. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is a head injury treated?

A mild head injury may not need to be treated. You may be given medicine to decrease pain. Other treatments may depend on how severe your head injury is. A concussion, hematoma (collection of blood), or traumatic brain injury may need both immediate and long-term treatment.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest or do quiet activities. Limit your time watching TV, using the computer, or doing tasks that require a lot of thinking. Slowly return to your normal activities as directed. Do not play sports or do activities that may cause you to get hit in the head. Ask your healthcare provider when you can return to sports.
  • Apply ice on your head for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or 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 skin. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Have someone stay with you for 24 hours , or as directed. This person can monitor you for problems and call for help if needed. When you are awake, the person should ask you a few questions every few hours to see if you are thinking clearly. An example is to ask your name or address.

What can I do to prevent another head injury?

  • Wear a helmet that fits properly. Do this when you play sports, or ride a bike, scooter, or skateboard. Helmets help decrease your risk for a serious head injury. Talk to your healthcare provider about other ways you can protect yourself if you play sports.
  • Wear your seatbelt every time you are in a car. This helps lower your risk for a head injury if you are in a car accident.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US), or have someone else call if:

  • You cannot be woken.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You stop responding to others or you faint.
  • You have blurry or double vision.
  • Your speech becomes slurred or confused.
  • You have arm or leg weakness, loss of feeling, or new problems with coordination.
  • Your pupils are larger than usual, or one pupil is a different size than the other.
  • You have blood or clear fluid coming out of your ears or nose.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have repeated or forceful vomiting.
  • You feel confused.
  • Your headache gets worse or becomes severe.
  • You or someone caring for you notices that you are harder to wake than usual.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your symptoms last longer than 6 weeks after the injury.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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 Merative 2023 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

Further information

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