Overview of head injury
Head injuries occur when a fall or other injury affects the head.
Most head trauma is minor and does not require medical attention. However, with moderate to severe head injuries, it is essential to seek help. Head injuries can be external (affecting the scalp) or internal (involving the skull or brain). They can also be closed, meaning the skull remains intact, or open, indicating the skull is broken. Examples of head injuries include:
- Scalp wounds
- Skull fractures
- Brain hemorrhage
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Signs and symptoms of head injury depend on the specific injury.
For scalp wounds, the main symptom is bleeding. The scalp can bleed a lot because it is very rich in blood vessels that are close to the skin. Swelling can also occur. You may have a knot (or bump) on the scalp.
The symptoms of internal head injury may or may not be seen right away. The head may appear fine, so it’s hard to know how serious a head injury is without medical evaluation. Symptoms of an internal injury can include:
- Partial or total loss of memory (amnesia)
- Changes in mental function
- Difficulty concentrating
- Personality changes
- Problems sleeping
Seek emergency medical care or call 911 for the following symptoms:
- Abnormal behavior
- Blood or clear fluid coming from the nose, ear, or mouth
- Difficulty breathing, speaking, or seeing
- Extreme sleepiness
- Loss of consciousness, even if very brief
- Serious wound
- Severe headache or stiff neck
- Sudden vision problems, such as decreased vision or double vision
- Unequal pupils
- Weakness or inability to move an arm or leg
Trauma is the cause of head injuries. Examples of trauma include motor vehicle accidents, assault, falls, and accidents at work or during sports or other activities. In children, most head injuries are from falls (such as a bike accident), or are related to sports.
Head injuries are sorted into two overarching categories:
- External head injuries affect the scalp
- Internal head injuries affect the skull, brain, or blood vessels
Within these categories, there are several other types of injuries:
- Concussions are generally mild traumatic brain injuries that occur with a blow to the head. Injuries that forcefully move the head back and forth can also cause concussion.
- Contusions are bruises to the soft tissue under the skin. A blow to the head can cause blood from your blood vessels to leak, which leads to this bruising.
- Skull fractures are breaks in the bone and do not necessarily mean you sustained brain damage.
Anyone may experience a head injury, but certain risk factors can make you more susceptible. Age is an important factor. People in the following categories are at higher risk:
- Children, from newborn to 4 years old
- Young adults between 15 and 24
- Adults over 60
Additionally, males in all age groups are more likely to experience a head injury.
- Always wear a seatbelt in cars.
- Ensure children are in the back seat and in an appropriate child safety seat or booster seat for their weight and size.
- Always wear a properly sized helmet while bicycling, skateboarding, motorcycling, and while participating in snow sports, baseball, contact sports, or horseback riding.
- Never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, including prescription medications that may limit your ability to drive safely.
- Allow your body the appropriate amount of time to recover from a head injury before resuming normal activities.
While it is not possible to entirely prevent head injuries, following these steps will drastically reduce your risk.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.