Do You Know The Signs Of Head Injury

Head and Brain

March is “Brain Injury Awareness” month. The recent skiing accident and tragic death of actress Natasha Richardson makes the timing seem apropos. Do you know the signs of head injury?

The autopsy on Richardson confirmed an epidural hematoma due to blunt head trauma from the fall while skiing. The trauma seemed so minor that she ignored it even while being encouraged to be seen by medical personnel.

Every year, millions of people sustain a head injury. Thankfully, most of these injuries are minor as the skull provides the brain with considerable protection. Still it is best to protect the head and brain with a proper helmet when skiing, riding bikes, playing sports, etc.

Common causes of head injury include motor vehicle accidents, falls, physical assault, and accidents at home, work, outdoors, or while playing sports.

Even minor head injuries have been found to have long term effects, making the person more susceptible to dementia as they age. More serious head injuries can result in more immediate damage to the brain or even death. If the person survives the head injury, they may still be left with problems such as chronic headaches, some paralysis, seizures, speech problems, memory problems, etc.

The following symptoms suggest a more serious head injury. If any of these are present or become present, then seek immediate medical attention.

> Changes in, or unequal size of pupils

> Loss of consciousness, confusion, or drowsiness

> Inability to move one or more limbs

> Problems with hearing, smell, taste, or vision

> Irritability (especially in children), personality changes, or unusual behavior

> Restlessness, clumsiness, or lack of coordination

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> Severe headache or continuing or worsening headache

> Slurred speech or blurred vision

> Convulsions or seizures

> Stiff neck or vomiting (especially if more than once)

> Fluid draining from nose, mouth, or ears (may be clear or bloody)

> Symptoms improve, and then suddenly get worse (change in consciousness)

If your loved one or friend develops or has any of the above, then seek medical attention immediately.

For a mild head injury, no specific treatment may be needed. Still, it is important to closely watch the person for any concerning symptoms over the next 24 hours. The symptoms of a serious head injury can be delayed. While the person is sleeping, wake him or her every 2 to 3 hours and ask simple questions to check alertness, such as "What is your name?"

If a child begins to play or run immediately after getting a bump on the head, serious injury is unlikely. However, as with anyone with a head injury, closely watch the child for 24 hours after the incident.

Over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, may be used for a mild headache. DO NOT take aspirin, ibuprofen, or other anti-inflammatory medications because they can increase the risk of bleeding.

It is also important to avoid alcohol within 48 hours of a head injury so the above signs can be watched for and not clouded by the use of alcohol.

Err on the side of caution. If there is any question, then seek medical advice.

Medline Plus