March 28, 2023

Head Injuries and Children: When to Take Your Child to the Doctor

From running around on the playground to rolling off the couch to taking a hard hit while playing football, head injuries in children are a possibility at any age – and when it happens, it’s always a major concern for parents. Fortunately, in most cases when a child is otherwise healthy, it’s just a temporary discomfort from a bump on the head. You can monitor your child in the immediate hours, just to be safe. You can even double check with your child’s pediatrician to give yourself peace of mind.

But if your child loses consciousness, has deep cuts on the head or face, or shows behavioral changes, it’s always best to contact a doctor immediately for further assessment. Based on the level of impact and additional symptoms, a medical professional can help you determine the best next step.

For mild injuries

It’s not unusual for a parent to wonder what to do if a child injures their head. When a child hits their head, of course it’s a bit alarming. They might be shocked, scared or in pain. But typically, the crying from an incident of this nature subsides within 10minutes.

As long as the child appears alert and responsive, it’s likely a minor injury. Some things, like applying a cold compress in 20-minuteincrements, may provide a level of comfort or reduce swelling in the head injury of a child. Acetaminophen can also be given for pain, but be careful not to mask pain or symptoms that may point to a more complex head injury. And while it’s okay to let your child sleep at their typical times, it’s a good idea to check on them every couple of hours to ensure they’re okay. Thankfully, in most instances, your child will just experience the discomfort of a bump on the head.

For newborns and babies

The first few months of a baby’s life are so exciting, but they also present many opportunities for bumps and tumbles. From rolling to stumbling to falling down, your baby needs time to develop their movements and become comfortable. At some point, they may accidentally bump their head – but don’t worry, minor bumps on a baby’s head are normally nothing to worry about.

Check for alertness and responsiveness, and then observe them over 36 to 48 hours to note any developing symptoms that might point to a true head injury. Typical symptoms include prolonged fussiness, inconsolable crying, vomiting multiple times, difficulties sitting or walking, and/or unresponsive behavior. These signs, or noticeable swelling, are cause to bring your child to the doctor as soon as possible.

For major head injuries

Severe head injuries require immediate medical attention, as they can cause lapses in judgment, memory loss, unstable balance, slower reaction times, interrupted speech and disrupted sleep ability. They’re also often accompanied by headaches and sensitivity to both light and sound.

When a child bumps their head and experiences concussion symptoms, or loses consciousness, you should bring them in to Laredo Emergency Room immediately. Every hour of every day, our emergency pediatricians are hereto help. If combined with impact, the following signs of head injuries require emergency medical care:

·        Extreme paleness lasting more than an hour

·        Tingling localized to one side of the body

·        A numb sensation in the arms or legs

·        Instability when balancing, standing or walking

·        Seizures

·        Prolonged dizziness

·        Nausea or multiple episodes of vomiting

·        Loss of hearing or ringing in the ears

·        Changes or slurs in speech

·        Vision impairment including blurred vision, double vision or unequal pupils

·        Inability to recognize familiar faces or memory loss

·        Persistent or worsening headache

·        Intense sleepiness or trouble waking

·        Noticeably irritable, confused or other behavioral changes

These symptoms could appear hours or, in some cases, days following an incident, so careful observation remains one of the most important things you can do if your child bumps their head.

Will my child receive a CT scan?

Although CT scans can be a great tool to identify bleeding in the brain or fractured skulls, they aren’t effective when it comes to diagnosing a concussion. That’s why, in the majority of cases, they won’t be used. In fact, because they rely on radiation, and children’s brains are still developing, we recommend minimizing unnecessary exposure to X-rays whenever possible. Following an examination, the emergency pediatrician will only request a CT scan if there’s reason to check for bleeding in the brain, brain swelling or a skull fracture.

What if my child has a concussion?

Unfortunately, some head injuries do lead to concussions, which are mild traumatic brain injuries caused by an impact. The typical symptoms associated with concussions are dizziness, fatigue and forgetfulness, with the symptoms lasting from minutes to weeks long following the event. In rare instances, children will experience the symptoms long-term due to their developing brains. The effects of a concussion vary greatly from case to case.

In any cases of concussions in children, be sure that there’s no rush to return to being active. Rest, both physically and mentally, can go a long way in helping children recover from the trauma.

For child athletes following a concussion

Athletes of any age who have experienced concussions or concussion-related symptoms should refrain from engaging in activity until they’ve been cleared to do so by a doctor. The typical timeframe before returning to sports is one full week. While it may be disappointing, it’s the safest course of action to ensure that no complications or long-term damage has taken place. As they return to sports and physical activity, go gradually. Your child’s pediatrician can help guide you along the way, so be sure to keep clear, frequent communication as you navigate post-concussion protocol.

Of course, the best way to avoid head injuries is to create safe playing environments to prevent injuries from occurring. But sometimes, even with the best intentions and careful monitoring, accidents happen. Should you find yourself in that situation, Laredo Emergency Room will act swiftly todo a comprehensive evaluation and make sure that your child is on the best path to healing.

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