Severe head injury

Severe head injuries require immediate medical attention because there could be a risk of serious brain damage. Dial 999 immediately to request an ambulance if you're with someone who experiences any of symptoms highlighted below after sustaining a head injury.

Symptoms of a severe head injury 

Symptoms can include:

  • unconsciousness – where a person has collapsed and is unresponsive, even for a brief period of time
  • concussion – a sudden but short-lived loss of mental function that occurs after a blow or other injury to the head; a person with concussion may have a glazed look or appear confused, but won’t necessarily be unconscious 
  • fits or seizures 
  • difficulty speaking or staying awake
  • problems with the senses – such as hearing loss or double vision
  • repeated episodes of vomiting (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)
  • sudden swelling or bruising around both eyes or behind the ear
  • difficulty with walking or co-ordination

When to get medical help 

Dial 999 immediately to request an ambulance if you're with someone who experiences any of the symptoms above after sustaining a head injury. Alternatively, take them immediately to your nearest emergency department.

You should also go to hospital if someone has injured their head and:

  • the injury was caused by a forceful blow to the head at speed, such as being hit by a car or falling one metre or more
  • the person has had previous brain surgery
  • the person has had previous problems with uncontrollable bleeding or a blood clotting disorder, or is taking medication that may cause bleeding problems, such as warfarin
  • the person has been drinking alcohol or has taken drugs
  • the injury wasn't accidental – for example, a person has deliberately hurt themselves or someone else hurt you on purpose
  • it is extremely important if someone has had a head injury, and becomes unconscious, you should not move them. It may be that they also have a serious neck injury. Moving their neck in such circumstances can cause the person to become paralysed. Phone 999 and ask for advice on what to do.

This page focuses on severe head injury. Read about minor head injuries.

Treating a severe head injury 

Severe head injuries always require hospital treatment. This may involve:

  • observing the person  for any changes in their condition
  • running tests to check for further damage
  • treating the head injury, and any other injuries
  • breathing support (ventilation) or brain surgery

Most people are able to go home within 48 hours. However, a small number of those admitted to hospital require skull or brain surgery.

When you're discharged from hospital, your doctor will advise you on the best way to help your recovery when you return home.

A particularly severe head injury can be fatal, so a person with this type of injury will be closely monitored in hospital, so that any complications that arise can be dealt with quickly and effectively.

Preventing head injuries 

It can be difficult to predict or avoid a head injury, but there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of serious injury. These include:

  • ensuring your home (or those of elderly relatives) are free of trip hazards that could cause a fall, such as loose carpets or unnecessary items on the floor
  • ‘childproofing’ your home – for example, by ensuring young children can’t reach windows or balconies
  • using the right safety equipment for work, sport and DIY

Wearing a safety helmet during certain activities, such as skiing or cycling, may also help to prevent a serious head injury.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

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