Head injury - first aid.
head injury is any trauma that injures the scalp, skull, or
brain. The injury may be only a minor bump on the skull or a
serious brain injury.
Head injury can be either closed or open (penetrating).
•A closed head injury means you received a hard blow to the head
from striking an object, but the object did not break the skull.
•An open, or penetrating, head injury means you were hit with an
object that broke the skull and entered the brain. This usually
happens when you move at high speed, such as going through the
windshield during a car accident. It can also happen from a
gunshot to the head.
Head injuries include:
•Concussion, the most common type of traumatic brain injury, in
which the brain is shaken
Head injuries may cause bleeding:
•In the brain tissue
•In the layers that surround the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage
and subdural hematoma )
Causes Common causes of head injury include:
•Accidents at home, work, outdoors, or while playing sports
Most of these injuries are minor because the skull protects the
brain. However, some injuries are severe enough to require a
stay in the hospital.
Symptoms The symptoms of a head injury can occur right away, or
develop slowly over several hours or days. Even if the skull is
not fractured, the brain can bang against the inside of the
skull and be bruised. The head may look fine, but problems could
result from bleeding or swelling inside the skull.
In any serious head trauma, the spinal cord is also likely to be
Some head injuries cause changes in brain function. This is
called a traumatic brain injury. Concussion is a mild traumatic
brain injury. Symptoms of a concussion can range from mild to
First Aid Learning to recognize a serious head injury and give
basic first aid can save someone's life.
Get medical help right away if the person:
•Becomes very drowsy
•Develops a severe headache or stiff neck
•Loses consciousness, even briefly
•Vomits more than once
For a moderate to severe head injury, take the following steps:
2.Check the person's airway, breathing, and circulation. If
necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR.
3.If the person's breathing and heart rate are normal but the
person is unconscious, treat as if there is a spinal injury.
Stabilize the head and neck by placing your hands on both sides
of the person's head, keeping the head in line with the spine
and preventing movement. Wait for medical help.
4.Stop any bleeding by firmly pressing a clean cloth on the
wound. If the injury is serious, be careful not to move the
person's head. If blood soaks through the cloth, do NOT remove
it. Place another cloth over the first one.
5.If you suspect a skull fracture, do NOT apply direct pressure
to the bleeding site, and do NOT remove any debris from the
wound. Cover the wound with sterile gauze dressing.
6.If the person is vomiting, roll the head, neck, and body as
one unit to prevent choking. This still protects the spine,
which you must always assume is injured in the case of a head
injury. (Children often vomit once after a head injury. This may
not be a problem, but call a doctor for further guidance.)
7.Apply ice packs to swollen areas.
For a mild head injury, no treatment may be needed. However, the
symptoms of a serious head injury can show up later. As a
•Friends or family may need to watch adults who have been
injured after they are released from the emergency room or
•Parents or caregivers of children will need to learn how to
watch the child after a head injury, and know when the child can
go back to being active and taking part in sports.
DO NOT•Do NOT wash a head wound that is deep or bleeding a lot.
•Do NOT remove any object sticking out of a wound.
•Do NOT move the person unless absolutely necessary.
•Do NOT shake the person if he or she seems dazed.
•Do NOT remove a helmet if you suspect a serious head injury.
•Do NOT pick up a fallen child with any sign of head injury.
•Do NOT drink alcohol within 48 hours of a serious head injury.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Call 911 if:
•There is severe head or face bleeding
•The person is confused, tired, or unconscious
•The person stops breathing
•You suspect a serious head or neck injury, or the person
develops any signs or symptoms of a serious head injury
Prevention Although you cannot prevent injuries entirely,
parents can take some simple steps to keep their children from
getting head injuries.
To prevent head injuries in adults:
•Always use safety equipment during activities that could cause
a head injury. These include seat belts, bicycle or motorcycle
helmets, and hard hats.
•Learn and follow bicycle safety recommendations.
•Do NOT drink and drive, and do NOT allow yourself to be driven
by someone who you know or suspect has been drinking alcohol or
is impaired in another way.
Alternative Names Brain injury; Head trauma
ReferencesBiros MH, Heegaard WG. Head injury. In: Marx JA,
Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency
Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. St. Louis, Mo:
Mosby; 2009:chap 38.
Atabaki SM. Pediatric head injury. Pediatr Rev. 2007;28:215-224.