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First Aid and Emergencies

Head Injuries

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Most bumps on the head are minor and heal as easily as bumps anywhere else. Head injuries that cause cuts often bleed heavily because the

blood vessels of the scalp are close to the skin's surface. In children, blood loss from a scalp injury may be enough to cause symptoms of shock.

Head injuries that do not cause visible external bleeding may have caused life-threatening bleeding and swelling inside the skull. Anyone who has experienced a head injury should be watched carefully for 24 hours for signs of a severe head injury.


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  • Wear a seat belt when in a motor vehicle. Use child car seats.

  • Wear a helmet while biking, motorcycling, and skating.

  • Don't dive into shallow or unfamiliar water.

Home Treatment

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  • If the victim is unconscious, assume he or she has a spinal injury. Do not move the victim without first protecting the neck from movement (See Spinal Injuries). Check for other injuries.

  • If there is bleeding, apply firm pressure directly over the wound with a clean cloth or bandage for 15 minutes. If the blood soaks through, apply additional cloths over the first one.See Stopping Severe Bleeding.

  • Apply ice or cold packs to reduce the swelling. A "goose egg" may appear anyway, but ice will help ease the pain.

  • For the first 24 hours after a head injury, watch the victim for signs of a severe head injury. Check for the following every 2 hours:

    • Confusion. Ask the person his or her name, address, age, the date, etc.

    • Inability to move the arms and legs on one side of the body, or slower movement of the limbs on one side than on the other.

    • Lethargy, abnormally deep sleep, or difficulty waking up.

    • Vomiting that continues after the first 2 hours, or violent vomiting that persists after the first 15 minutes.

    • Seizures or convulsions.

  • Continue observing the person every 2 hours during the night. Wake the person up and check for any unusual symptoms. Call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately if you cannot wake the person or if he or she has any of the above symptoms.

  • Check for injuries to other parts of the body, especially if the person has fallen. The alarm from seeing a head injury may cause you to overlook other injuries that need attention.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If the person loses consciousness at any time after being injured.

  • If double vision or speech difficulty persists after the first minute.

  • If weakness or numbness occurs on one side of the body.

  • If blood or clear fluid drains from the ears or nose following a blow to the head (not due to a cut or direct blow to the nose).

  • If the person is confused or does not remember being injured.

  • If the person develops a severe headache.

  • If vomiting occurs after the first 2 hours or violent vomiting persists after the first 15 minutes.

  • If the person has seizures or convulsions.

  • If bleeding cannot be stopped (See Stopping Severe Bleeding) or the wound needs stitches (See Are Sutures Necessary?).

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