First Time User? Enroll now.
COVID-19: Vaccine information, visitor restrictions, and additional resources | Medicaid: The program is changing and you must take steps to keep your UNC Health providers
Home > Health Library > Head Injury, Age 4 and Older
Most injuries to the head are minor. Bumps, cuts, and scrapes on the head and face usually heal well and can be treated the same as injuries to other parts of the body. Minor cuts on the head often bleed heavily because the face and scalp have many blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. Often the injury is not severe, and you can stop the bleeding with home treatment.
Many head injuries can be prevented. Use seat belts and helmets, and make your home safe to prevent falls.
Common causes of serious head injuries in adults include:
Head injuries that involve force are more likely to cause a serious injury to the brain. A high-energy injury to the head increases the likelihood of a serious injury even more. Be sure to evaluate the person for signs and symptoms of a head injury after a fall or other type of head injury.
It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between a concussion and a more serious head injury. A person with a concussion may appear dazed, stare blankly, or cry for no apparent reason. Nausea, vomiting, headache, or dizziness may be present. A visit to a doctor is needed anytime mild symptoms persist. Even if a visit to a doctor is not needed, watch anyone who has had a head injury carefully for at least 24 hours to see whether signs of a serious head injury develop.
Occasionally, after a head injury you may feel as if you are not functioning as well as you did before the injury (postconcussive syndrome). You may have blurred vision, headache, nausea, vomiting, forgetfulness, or trouble concentrating. Some people have problems with balance and coordination and personality changes. These changes may be related to stress from the events around the accident that caused the injury or from the injury itself. Many people have symptoms for as long as 3 months after a head injury, and some even have problems for as long as a year afterward.
When a head injury has occurred, look for other injuries to other parts of the body that also may need attention. Trouble breathing, shock, spinal injuries, and severe bleeding are all life-threatening injuries that may occur along with a head injury and require immediate medical attention. Injuries to the spine, especially the neck, must be considered when there has been a head injury. Be sure to check for other injuries to the face, mouth, or teeth whenever there is a head injury.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Symptoms of a spinal cord injury in an adult or older child may include:
Symptoms of a skull fracture may include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may quickly occur after a sudden illness or injury.
Adults and older children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Symptoms of a serious head injury may include:
Other symptoms related to a head injury that may appear later include:
With severe bleeding, any of these may be true:
With moderate bleeding, any of these may be true:
With mild bleeding, any of these may be true:
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Do not move the person unless there is an immediate threat to the person's life, such as a fire. If you have to move the person, keep the head and neck supported and in a straight line at all times. If the person has had a diving accident and is still in the water, float the person face up in the water.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Put direct, steady pressure on the wound until help arrives. Keep the area raised if you can.
Home treatment for a head injury is only appropriate if there was no loss of consciousness or inability to recall current events (amnesia) after the injury. If either loss of consciousness or amnesia has occurred, check your symptoms to determine when to see your doctor.
Many minor head injuries that do not involve loss of consciousness or amnesia may be treated at home. A person who has had a head injury should be watched for any problems from the injury. Home treatment can also help relieve swelling and bruising of the skin or scalp and pain caused by a minor head injury.
If a visit to your doctor is not needed immediately:
If vomiting occurs:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
To prepare for your appointment, see the topicMaking the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Current as of:
July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.