The stages of childhood bring plenty of opportunity for a child to bump or otherwise hurt his head. Fortunately, the skull is usually pretty good at protecting the brain from severe damage and many head injuries are minor. If your child bumps his head or gets a cut on his scalp, keep an eye on him and call your doctor if his condition worsens.
Types of Head Injuries
You can classify a head injury as either a closed injury or an open one. An open injury occurs when the skull is cracked and the brain is damaged directly. In a closed injury, the skull is not cracked. Head injuries may be further classified as external — meaning the scalp is affected — or internal, where the skull or brain is hurt. Open and internal injuries are usually more severe than closed or external ones.
Signs and Symptoms
A bump may form on your child’s head after a minor head injury. She may have a headache and feel dizzy. Other common symptoms of a minor injury include irritability or a shift in mood. She may seem confused, especially if she has a concussion, which occurs when the brain impacts the wall of the skull. Other symptoms of a concussion include vomiting, memory loss and trouble with balance. Take your child to the doctor if she shows symptoms of a concussion.
Your child could hurt his head by bumping it against a piece of furniture, or he could take a tumble and scrape his scalp while learning to walk. Older children are at risk of suffering injuries during sports activities, particularly ones that involve physical contact, such as football. Most head injuries result from automobile accidents, according to the Merck Manual. A child doesn’t have to hit his head to suffer from a head injury. Violent back and forth motion of the head can cause the brain to shift in the skull.
Treating a Head Injury
If a head injury is truly minor, it should resolve on its own without any medication. Give your child plenty of rest and keep him out of school for a day or two. He should avoid contact sports for at least a week, or until his doctor gives him the okay to play again. Keep an eye on your child to make sure he does not get worse. If there’s a bump or bruise, a cold compress or ice pack may help reduce the swelling.
Make sure your child is buckled up or properly fastened into a car seat whenever he goes in a car. If he rides a bike or skates, give him a helmet to wear to protect his head in case of falls. He should wear a helmet during football and other contact sports and when skiing as well. Make your home childproof, so that your toddler won’t knock his head on low tables or other furniture.