Topics: Traumatic Brain Injury

Recognizing the Signs of Head Trauma

Recognizing the Signs of Head Trauma

Every year, nearly two million people sustain head injuries. Though most are able to recover, a stunning 52,000 head injury sufferers die annually. Some head injuries require only watchful waiting. Others demand an immediate trip to the emergency room.

While knowing the signs of head trauma can be helpful, if you have any doubts about the severity of your head injury or the injury of a loved one, go to the emergency room, since prompt medical care can save your life.

Watchful Waiting: Signs of Minor Head Trauma

Everyone sustains an occasional bump to the head, and as long as the wound isn't deep and the blow to your head wasn't forceful enough to affect your brain, these injuries typically heal on their own. When you sustain such an injury, watch for signs and symptoms that the injury is becoming more serious, such as loss of consciousness or confused thinking. Some signs that your head injury is minor include:

  • Swelling is only superficial, and only at the site of the blow.
  • You don't suffer a headache, nausea, or confusion.
  • The blow was relatively light.
  • There was no blood at the site of the wound.

Talk to Your Doctor: Signs of Moderate Head Trauma

Some head injuries are serious enough to warrant an immediate call to your doctor, but not sufficiently serious to warrant an emergency room trip. Contact your doctor for tips about next steps if:

  • The wound opened the skin, but bleeding is not severe.
  • You have a mild headache after the injury.
  • You have a history of head injuries, Parkinson's disease, or neurological conditions.
  • Your neck, back, or spinal cord begins hurting.
  • The pain gets worse over the course of several hours.

Go to the Emergency Room: Life-Threatening Signs of Head Trauma

The wound doesn't have to look catastrophic to yield catastrophic consequences. Some signs that you need immediate medical assistance for a traumatic brain injury include:

  • A wound that is actively bleeding.
  • A forceful blow to the head, such as from a baseball bat or car accident.
  • You experience nausea, vomiting, or a ringing sensation in your ears.
  • You feel sleepy after the injury.
  • Your mood or emotions change. For instance, you might suddenly feel angry or depressed.
  • Swelling continues 24 hours after the injury.
  • You experience a change in intelligence or personality several days after an injury.
  • You experienced a blow directly to your spinal cord or the back of your head.
  • Your speech is slurred.
  • The head pain you experience is intense.
  • Your nose begins bleeding or fluid leaks from your ears.
  • You experience muscle weakness.
  • Your rate of breathing changes or you lose consciousness.
  • You experience seizures.
  • There is bruising under your eyes or behind your ears.
  • You have a previous history of concussions.

If you're on the fence about going to the emergency room, go now. And if you feel confused, don't try to drive yourself. Call 911. Doing so may save your life.

If this is not an emergency, click on the button below to speak with a recovery coach who can answer general questions about living with a brain injury.

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Zawn Villines

Written by Zawn Villines

Zawn Villines is a writer specializing in health and legal journalism. Raised by a lawyer and lobbyist who advocated for spinal cord injury survivors, she is a lifelong advocate for spinal injury victims and their loved ones. You can connect with Zawn on Google+ below.

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