When Does My Child Need Medical Attention for a Head Injury?

Do you know how to tell when your child has a concussion? Or when your child needs to go to the doctor or ER to be checked out?

There are two types of head injuries : External (scalp) and Internal (blood vessels inside the skull, the skull or the brain)

More often than not, a head injury is very minor – though it can look a lot worse than it is. There are so many blood vessels in the scalp that a minor cut can bleed profusely or a tiny bump on the head can cause a large goose egg.

Many times, parents are unsure if they should take their child in due to a minor injury. And rightfully so! There have been numerous stories in the news about how someone has hit their head, carried on with their day and passed away shortly after, not realizing they have a major head injury.

Just an average day in the household of a boy..
Just an average day in the household of a boy..

When to seek medical attention : (ER or doctor if available)

  1. Your child is under three months old
  2. Your child, of any age has lost consciousness
  3. Your child has any of the following symptoms
  • Won’t stop crying
  • Complains of head and neck pain
  • Vomits repeatedly
  • Difficult to awaken
  • Is seemingly off balanced or can’t complete easy tasks such as kicking a ball or giving a high five
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Slurred speech or saying things that do not make sense
  • Doesn’t remember what happened leading up to the injury (if old enough to tell you)
  • Irritable and anxious for no reason

How to treat head injuries :

  1. Apply an ice pack to the injury for 20 minutes out of every 4 hours (wrap it in a cloth – don’t apply ice or ice packs directly to skin)
  2. Observe your child carefully for the following 24 hours. If any of the symptoms for an internal injury (listed below) are apparent, go to your doctor or ER immediately.
  3. If your child’s routine includes sleep shortly after the accident, check in a few times to see if their colour and rate of breathing is abnormal. If so, see the doctor or visit the ER immediately.

There is no need to wake your child after a head injury if the above symptoms are not observed.
If you are unsure, lightly wake your child by sitting them up. If they fuss and try to resettle, that is normal. If they don’t try to protest, awaken them fully.

What to look for to determine if internal head injury :

  • Unconscious upon impact of incident
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Obvious serious wound, that may need stitches or is just severe.
  • Bleeding or clear guild from the nose, ear or mouth
  • Change in speech or vision
  • Pupils are not equal size
  • Weak or lack of motor control
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Seizure

What if you child is unconscious from the fall?
Do NOT try to move them. Call 911 right away. There is a potential for a neck or spinal injury which could become worse by moving them.
If the unconscious child is vomiting or having a seizure, roll them onto their side while trying to keep their neck and head straight, to prevent choking.

When you child falls, it’s hard to resist the urge to reach down and scoop them up to kiss their scrapes and bruises, but it’s important to let them to react and stand up on their own so you can assess the injuries and ensure that they didn’t lose consciousness. Pay attention to how long it is between falling and when they start to cry – it’s a good indicator as well.

Just remember, parental instinct shouldn’t be ignored. If your child doesn’t match the criteria to need medical attention but your gut says otherwise – take them in! There’s nothing wrong with being extra cautious when it comes to a head injury!

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