Head trauma: First aid
Medically reviewed on January 22, 2018
Most head trauma involves injuries that are minor and don't require specialized attention or hospitalization. However, even minor injuries may cause persistent chronic symptoms, such as headache or difficulty concentrating, and you may need to take some time away from many normal activities to get enough rest to ensure complete recovery.
Call 911 or your local emergency number if any of the following signs or symptoms are apparent, because they may indicate a more serious head injury.
- Severe head or facial bleeding
- Bleeding or fluid leakage from the nose or ears
- Severe headache
- Change in level of consciousness for more than a few seconds
- Black-and-blue discoloration below the eyes or behind the ears
- Cessation of breathing
- Loss of balance
- Weakness or an inability to use an arm or leg
- Unequal pupil size
- Slurred speech
- Any of the signs or symptoms for adults
- Persistent crying
- Refusal to eat
- Bulging in the soft spot on the front of the head (infants)
- Repeated vomiting
If severe head trauma occurs
- Keep the person still. Until medical help arrives, keep the injured person lying down and quiet, with the head and shoulders slightly elevated. Don't move the person unless necessary, and avoid moving the person's neck. If the person is wearing a helmet, don't remove it.
- Stop any bleeding. Apply firm pressure to the wound with sterile gauze or a clean cloth. But don't apply direct pressure to the wound if you suspect a skull fracture.
- Watch for changes in breathing and alertness. If the person shows no signs of circulation — no breathing, coughing or movement — begin CPR.