Head injury, minor

Head injury, minor

Introduction

Minor head injuries are common in people of all ages and should not result in any permanent damage.

The symptoms of a minor head injury are usually mild and short lived. Symptoms may include:

  • a mild headache
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • mild dizziness
  • mild blurred vision

If you or your child experience these mild symptoms after a knock, bump or blow to the head, you won’t usually require any specific treatment. However, you should go to your local accident and emergency (A&E) department for a check-up.

If your symptoms significantly worsen or you develop any new symptoms after being discharged, you should return to A&E straight away or call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

How common are head injuries?

Each year in England and Wales, around 700,000 people attend A&E departments with a head injury. Of these, over 80% only have a minor injury.

The most common causes of head injuries are falls, assaults and road traffic collisions.

Children are more likely to sustain a minor head injury because they have high energy levels and little sense of danger.

Treating a minor head injury

You can usually recover from a minor head injuries at home. Most people will make a full recovery in a few days.

For the first 24 hours after the injury, it’s important for someone to stay with the person who was injured, to keep an eye out for any new symptoms that develop.

It is also important to rest and avoid aggravating the injury with stressful situations and avoid contact sports until fully recovered.

Mild headaches can be treated with paracetamol, but always read the manufacturer’s instructions and remember that children under 16 should never be given aspirin.

Read more about how to treat a minor head injury.

Preventing head injuries

Although it can be difficult to predict or avoid a head injury, 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

Read more about how to prevent a minor head injury.

Symptoms of a minor head injury

Minor head injuries often cause a bump or bruise. As long as the person is conscious (awake), with no deep cuts, there is unlikely to be any serious damage.

Other symptoms of a minor head injury may include:

  • a mild headache
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • mild dizziness
  • mild blurred vision

If you or your child experience these mild symptoms after a knock, bump or blow to the head, you won’t usually require any specific treatment. However, you should go to your local minor injuries unit or accident and emergency (A&E) department for a check-up.

Read about treating a minor head injury.

Close observation

If your child or someone you know has sustained a head injury, observe them closely for 24 hours to monitor whether their symptoms change or worsen. If you have sustained a head injury, ask a friend or family member to stay with you for the following 24 hours to keep an eye on you.

If your child has a minor head injury, they may cry or be distressed. This is normal, and with attention and reassurance most children will settle down. However, seek medical assistance if your child continues to be distressed.

Signs of a serious head injury

If, following a knock to the head, you notice any of the below symptoms in either you or your child, seek immediate medical attention:

  • unconsciousness, either briefly or for a longer period of time
  • difficulty staying awake or still being sleepy several hours after the injury
  • clear fluid leaking from the nose or ears (this could be cerebrospinal fluid, which normally surrounds the brain)
  • bleeding from one or both ears
  • bruising behind one or both ears
  • any sign of skull damage or a penetrating head injury
  • difficulty speaking, such as slurred speech
  • difficulty understanding what people say
  • reading or writing problems
  • balance problems or difficulty walking
  • loss of power or sensation in part of the body, such as weakness or loss of feeling in an arm or leg
  • general weakness
  • vision problems, such as significantly blurred or double vision
  • having a seizure or fit (when your body suddenly moves uncontrollably)
  • memory loss (amnesia), such as not being able to remember what happened before or after the injury
  • a persistent headache
  • vomiting since the injury
  • irritability or unusual behaviour

If any of these symptoms are present, particularly a loss of consciousness (even if only for a short period of time), go immediately to your local A&E department or call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

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 a drug that may cause bleeding problems (such as warfarin)
  • the person is intoxicated by drugs or alcohol
  • it is possible that the injury was not accidental, for example you deliberately hurt yourself or someone else hurt you on purpose

Treating a minor head injury

If you or your child experience minor symptoms after a knock, bump or blow to the head, you won’t usually require any specific treatment.

However, you should go to your local minor injuries unit or accident and emergency (A&E) department for a check-up

Read about the symptoms of a head injury to find out when you need urgent medical attention.

Once you have been discharged, you should follow the advice below.

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
  • do not drink alcohol or take recreational drugs
  • do not take sleeping pills, sedatives or tranquillisers (unless they are prescribed by your doctor)
  • 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
  • do not play any contact sport, such as football or rugby for at least three weeks without talking to your doctor
  • do not return to work, college or school until you have completely recovered and feel ready
  • do not drive a car, motorbike or bicycle or operate machinery until you have completely recovered

When to seek medical attention

Return to an accident and emergency (A&E) department if you develop any symptoms of a severe head injury while recovering at home.

If you still have symptoms two weeks after the head injury or you are unsure about driving or returning to work, see your GP for advice.

Advice for children

If your child has a minor head injury:

  • give them paracetamol if they have a mild headache, but avoid NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and aspirin (aspirin should never be given to children under 16 years of age)
  • avoid getting them too excited
  • do not have too many visitors
  • do not let them play contact sports, such as football or rugby for at least three weeks without talking to your doctor
  • make sure that they avoid rough play for a few days

When to seek medical attention

Take your child back to an A&E department if their symptoms worsen or they develop any new symptoms.

If they still have symptoms two weeks after the head injury, or you are unsure about your child returning to school or sport, see your GP for advice.

Preventing a minor head injury

Many head injuries are the result of accidents that are difficult to predict or avoid. However, there are some ways to reduce your risk.

Safety helmets

Cyclists and motorcyclists can protect their head by wearing a properly fitting safety helmet. British Standard safety helmets are a legal requirement for motorcyclists.

Research commissioned by the Department for Transport found that bicycle helmets ‘should be effective at reducing the risk of head injury’.

However, it is difficult to know the benefit of cycle helmets for certain. This is because data about road accidents involving cyclists may not contain all of the relevant information. For example, the data may not explain where exactly the head injury occurred, which makes it difficult to determine whether a helmet might have prevented the injury.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) all support the use of cycle helmets and suggest that they may help to reduce head injuries.

As well as wearing a helmet when cycling, you should also make sure that both you and your children:

  • use lights and wear reflective clothing when cycling in the dark
  • are aware of the dangers of the road and know how to stay safe
  • always follow the Highway Code (visit GOV.UK to see an online version of the Highway Code)
  • check that the bike is in good working order

Read more cycling safety advice.

Safety in the home

Following sensible health and safety guidelines can help prevent accidents in the home. Some advice to help keep your home and garden as safe as possible includes:

  • keep stairways tidy so that you do not trip over anything
  • use appropriate safety equipment if you are doing any kind of DIY
  • do not stand on an unstable chair to change a light bulb – use a stepladder
  • clean up any spillages to prevent someone slipping over

For more information, see the RoSPA website.

Childproofing your home

It is not possible to childproof your home completely. However, you can take steps to keep toddlers and young children safe at home, for example by:

  • checking that windows are lockable and cannot be opened by your child, especially bedroom windows
  • moving furniture, such as beds, sofas and chairs away from windows to prevent your child climbing up and falling out 
  • fitting safety gates at the top and bottom of the stairs

Read more about preventing accidents to children in the home and teaching your child to stay safe.

Safety at work

To reduce the risk of sustaining a head injury at work, always follow any necessary health and safety guidelines. For example, you may have to wear a hard hat when working in potentially hazardous areas.

Only use ladders in a workplace environment for short-term, light work. Any work that requires spending a considerable amount of time at height, or involves heavy lifting, should be carried out on scaffolding or another suitable platform.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides more information about the correct use of ladders in the workplace, including a list of common tasks that involve working at height.

Any work that involves going up onto a roof should also be considered high-risk and therefore high standards of safety are essential.

Sport safety

Wear any necessary safety equipment when playing sports, particularly contact sports. Do not play any contact sports after a minor head injury for at least three weeks without talking to your doctor.