Head Injuries in Children: When to Worry

All parents know it - bangs and bumps happen - it’s part of childhood! Whether it be a trip, or a fall, or simply not looking where they’re going, kids have a knack for getting themselves into scrapes and it really is a part of growing up.


According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries in kids of all ages, and the number one cause of head injuries in children under nine. The CDC also states that kids under four are the most frequent victims of head injuries. It’s not surprising, considering they are only just finding their feet and at one of the most inquisitive stages of their lives!

>Most of the bumps to the head children will acquire will not be serious and require little to no medical assistance. These kinds of injuries often end with just a bump or a bruise. However, they can sometimes result in more serious injuries, and cause damage to the brain.

**IMPORTANT:** If you are at all concerned about a head injury that your child has sustained, don’t take any risks. Call your doctor and have a medical professional assess the situation as soon as possible!

What Counts as a Head Injury

Head injuries cover any knock to the head that causes a lump, bruise, cut, or more serious injury. Head injuries, in all people and not just children, are categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. Signs and symptoms post-injury are indicative of the severity of the injury and should be closely monitored to gain as much information as possible.

Mild Head Injuries

The first tier of head injuries can cause bruising or cuts to the head, and they might have vomited post-injury. Although they can result in an altered level of consciousness, the victim will most likely remain alert, interactive, and otherwise ‘normal’.

Moderate Head Injuries

The middle tier of head injuries includes signs such as a brief loss of consciousness and perhaps confusion and loss of orientation. They often remain alert and responsive, but may experience a persistent headache, visual disturbances and have a large cut/bump on their head.

These kinds of injuries usually cause a child to vomit twice or more and it is not uncommon for a child to experience a short seizure or fit immediately after. These can look quite scary, but they are often over quickly and serve as a definite signal to call for immediate help.

Severe Head Injuries

The most dangerous category of head injuries in children can look more dramatic and serious than the aforementioned types of injury. They may have a foreign object stuck in their head, or an extremely large and abnormal lump. If your child lost consciousness or is becoming increasingly unresponsive and drowsy, it can signify there has been a serious injury acquired.

Visual disturbances are common, and a severe head injury can also cause weakness in limbs and pupils of unequal size. As is the case with moderate injuries, it is likely a child with a severe head injury will experience a seizure, however this will probably happen more than once.

**With both moderate and severe head injuries, it is imperative that you call an ambulance immediately.

You may also want to seek medical help if the child:

  • Vomits several times following a head injury;
  • Loses consciousness; o>
  • Has experienced a particularly hard hit to the head such as, for example, from a vehicular accident or after falling from a high height.

How to React after a Child’s Head Injury

Remain calm. Granted, this is much easier said than done considering your child is probably in a lot of pain, crying an awful lot, and there may even be blood. However, your child will feel more at ease with you as their parent comforting them, telling them everything will be ok, rather than experiencing your distress. Of course, we cannot always control our initial reactions, but it is important to stay as calm as you can.

These situations often happen quickly, and knowing basic first aid is always a plus. You want to be able to put the child in a comfortable position, with their head supported, but not compressed in any way (especially if there is a foreign object involved).

Be sure to try and take note of the injury details, such as time and place, and the child’s immediate reactions, as these can help medical professionals make the proper and appropriate treatment decisions.

Post-Injury: What to Watch For

The few weeks following an injury are an important time to carefully observe your child for any unusual or worrying behavior.

Be sure to take note if you notice any of the following brain injury symptoms:

  • Unequal or unusually large pupils and blurred vision
  • Vomiting
  • Problems with balancing and/or walking
  • Persistent headaches
  • Lethargy (contact the emergency room if your child is becoming increasingly difficult to wake)
  • Bleeding or discharge from the ear or nose
  • Unusual or confused behavior

And in infants:

  • High pitched crying
  • Difficulty feeding and/or vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Dents in the skull

**Again, if at any point your child loses consciousness take them to the emergency room immediately.

Preventing Head Injuries in Children

Let us face facts. It would be impossible to watch our children every second of every day. And if we did, well, we would get nothing done! Children need the chance to explore and learn new things, and sometimes it means parents giving them a chance to get up and learn to dust themselves off.

Of course, there are precautions we can take to try and limit the chance of our children injuring themselves. Using basic safety strategies is probably your best bet in trying to prevent head injuries. For example, ensure they are wearing a suitable helmet when riding a bike, roller skates, or a skateboard (and other small vehicles!). Create, if you can, a safe space for children who are beginning to walk, where they cannot fall down onto anything hard or pull something heavy onto themselves.

Be aware of potentially dangerous situations that your child will encounter, including everyday activities such as the bath or time on a changing mat. These scenarios can easily be addressed with sensible prevention methods, such as a non-slip mat in the bath, and never leaving your infant alone in elevated spaces.

In conclusion, there is no way to stop our kids from getting head injuries. Bumps and bruises have, and always will be a part of learning and growing. And although we are likely to worry about any bump, there are few situations where you will need to really> worry about head injuries in children.

However, familiarizing yourself with the signs and symptoms of more severe head injuries in children, will help you know what to expect, and how to deal appropriately and efficiently when the time comes.

Next Steps

If your child did suffer a traumatic head injury, and is already well on his or her way to receiving quality medical treatment, you may be wondering what your next step is. We have a directory of rehabilitation clinics here that can help you locate a quality facility near you . We also have representatives standing by to discuss your options if someone else was at fault for the injury. 

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