Symptoms of a minor head injury
If your child experiences a knock, bump or blow to the head, sit them down, comfort them, and make sure they rest. You can hold a cold compress to their head. You could try a bag of ice or frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel.
The symptoms of a minor head injury are usually mild and short lived. They may include:
If your child's symptoms get significantly worse, take them straight to the emergency department of your nearest hospital or call 999 for an ambulance.
What to look out for
This page focuses on minor head injury. However, it is important to recognise the symptoms of severe head injuries. Severe head injuries require immediate medical attention because there could be a risk of serious brain damage.
Signs of a brain injury after a head injury include:
- unconsciousness – either brief (concussion) or for a longer period of time
- fits or seizures
- problems with the senses – such as hearing loss or double vision
- vomiting since the head injury (more than once in an adult and three or more times in a child)
- blood or clear fluid coming from the ears or nose
- memory loss (amnesia)
If any of these symptoms occur after a head injury, go immediately to your nearest hospital emergency department or call 999 and ask for an ambulance.
Treating a minor head injury
Most people who attend hospital with a minor head injury are allowed to return home shortly afterwards and will make a full recovery within a few days.
If your child or someone you know has sustained a head injury, it is unwise for them to be left alone for any significant period of time in the 48 hours following a head injury.
You should check up on them regularly to make sure they are well, and not developing symptoms that would cause concern. This is to monitor whether their symptoms change or get worse.
If your child has a minor head injury, they may cry or be distressed. This is normal – with attention and reassurance most children will settle down. However, seek medical assistance if your child has any of the signs of brain injury listed above, or if your child continues to be in distress.
Advice for children
If your child has a minor head injury:
- give them paracetamol if they have a mild headache (always read the manufacturer's instructions to ensure the correct dosage is taken), but avoid NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and aspirin (aspirin should never be given to children under the age of 16)
- avoid getting them too excited
- don't have too many visitors
- don't let them play contact sports, such as football or rugby, for at least three weeks without talking to your doctor
- make sure they avoid rough play for a few days
Advice for adults
If you have a minor head injury:
- ask someone to stay with you and keep within easy reach of a telephone and medical help for the first 48 hours after the injury
- have plenty of rest and avoid stressful situations
- don't drink alcohol or take recreational drugs
- it is unwise to take sleeping pills, sedatives or tranquillisers (unless specifically instructed by your doctor), as these can mask the symptoms of brain injury, or cause symptoms that could be confused for the effects of a brain injury
- take paracetamol if you have a mild headache, but avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, unless advised or prescribed by a doctor
- don't play contact sport, such as football or rugby, for at least three weeks without talking to your doctor
- don't return to work, college or school until you've completely recovered and feel ready
- don't drive a car, motorbike or bicycle or operate machinery until you've completely recovered
When to get medical help
Advice for parents and carers
Attend an emergency department urgently if your child:
- becomes unusually or increasingly sleepy
- complains of headaches which become more severe or, in the case of a young baby, if they cry persistently
- appears unsteady when walking
- vomits repeatedly (three or more times)
- has a fit
- develops a squint or blurred vision or starts seeing double
- becomes unconscious
Advice for adults
Attend an emergency department if:
- they have a change in consciousness, or experience confusion
- fluid leaks from their ear or nose
- they are drowsy when they would normally be awake
- they have problems with understanding or speaking, loss of balance or problems walking, or weakness in one or both arms or legs
- they develop new problems with their eyesight
- they have a worsening headache
- there is vomiting (more than once) or any seizures (in someone who has not previously experienced regular seizures /has not been previously diagnosed as having epilepsy)
If following a head injury, you or your child, have less severe symptoms, which do not resolve completely within a week or two, you should see your GP, for an assessment. Most of these symptoms will resolve within three months, but if they do not, it may be necessary to refer you for tests.
Preventing head injuries
It can be difficult to predict or avoid a head injury, but there are some steps you can take to help reduce the risk of more serious injury. These include:
- wearing a safety helmet when cycling
- reducing hazards in the home that may cause a fall
- childproofing your home
- using the correct safety equipment for work, sport and DIY
- Find out more about minor head injury on the NHS website