Head Trauma

A tumble down the stairs. A particularly tough tackle. A fall from the playground equipment.

It would be impossible to protect children from every bump and bruise. From curious, crawling toddlers to enthusiastic teen drivers and athletes, kids are often in situations that could result in injury. The key is to minimize this risk as much as possible. Among the most serious injuries to watch out for are head injuries.

A head injury is any trauma that leads to damage of the scalp, skull or brain. This includes everything from a minor bump or cut to serious injury to the brain, such as internal bleeding or bruising. Children younger than four years old and teens, especially boys, are at the highest risk for traumatic brain injury. Falls are the most common cause, followed by motor vehicle/traffic crashes, sports and recreation activities, and assault.

While most head injuries are minor due to the fact that the skull provides considerable protection for the brain, more than half a million head injuries a year are severe enough to require hospitalization.

So how do you know if your child needs medical attention for a head injury?

If it's anything more than a light bump on the head, call your child's doctor. Even though head injuries in children are usually minor, traumatic brain injury sometimes can be difficult to detect and, if left untreated, can be life-threatening.

Even if your child only sustains a minor bump on the head, pay close attention to him or her for the next 24 hours.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately. If your child loses consciousness, even if it's just for a moment, call 911.

  • Loss of consciousness, even for a moment
  • Pupils of unequal size
  • Convulsions (seizures)
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Bleeding or clear fluid from the nose, ear or mouth
  • Stumbling or difficulty walking
  • Constant or worsening headache
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Impaired hearing, smell, taste or vision
  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
  • Confusion, trouble focusing
  • Dizziness that does not go away or happens repeatedly
  • Extreme irritability or other abnormal behavior
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sleepiness or difficulty waking
  • Persistent ringing in the ears
  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Unusual paleness that lasts more than an hour
  • Distorted facial features
  • Restlessness, clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Symptoms improve, and then suddenly get worse

Do not try to move an unconscious child, as there could be an accompanying neck or spinal injury; instead call 911 and wait for the ambulance.

Concussions are the most common type of traumatic brain injury and are often the result of sports-related activity.

Young athletes often will suffer through pain and injury to keep playing. But when it comes to head injuries, suffering silently could lead to serious consequences, including paralysis, loss of sight or hearing, coma, even death. If your child plays sports, make sure he or she understands that no game, award or trophy is worth risking his or her life or health.

Watch Tracy's story to find out how serious an ignored concussion can be (courtesy of CDC).

Prevention is key to minimizing the risk of head trauma.

Be sure to take these precautions to protect your child from serious head injury:

  •  Childproof your home to prevent accidents.
  • Teach your children to always wear appropriate helmet and safety equipment during sports and recreation.
  • When in a car or motor vehicle, always secure children using the appropriate child safety seat. If your children are old enough to ride in the car without a safety seat, make sure they always wear their seat belt.
  • Place rubber mats in bathtubs and showers.
  • Closely supervise children on playground equipment. Make sure playground surfaces are made of soft, shock-absorbing material, such as sand or mulch.
  • Throw away helmets and car seats that were involved in a crash. Even if you can't see any damage, the safety of the equipment can still be compromised. Talk to your insurance company to see if it will cover the cost of replacing a damaged car seat.
  • Always supervise young children, especially around stairs, windows and water.
  • Never shake your infant or toddler.
  • Make sure to use a safe crib, and never leave young children alone on tall beds or furniture.
  • If your children play sports, make sure that they display good sportsmanship, always follow the rules and safety procedures, and wear well-fitting, protective safety equipment (helmets, pads, mouth guards, etc.).

Bump on the Head vs. Head Trauma
Guide for Coaches
Fact Sheet for Parents
Fact Sheet for Athletes
Car Safety Seats: A Guide for Families 2009
Crib Safety
Shopping Cart Safety
Home Playground Safety
First Aid Kit Supplies
Brain Injury Association of America

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