When does a bump on the head become serious
Marc Wasserman, MD, is a neurologist on staff at Banner Estella Medical Center. His office can be reached at (623) 535-0050.
Question: News stories about the dangers of head injuries have me concerned about the safety of my children. If one of my kids falls or hits his head, how will I know if it is just a minor bump or something more serious?
Answer: Roughly 10 million head injuries occur annually in the United States, and most are minor. Still, even minor head injuries in children, such as cuts and lumps, can be scary for parents. Fortunately, these types of superficial head injuries generally resolve quickly, and seldom require a visit to the doctor.
Mild headaches or lightheadedness are common and can often be treated with Tylenol and rest. When the child falls asleep, it is generally advisable to wake them at least once after an hour to make sure they do so without any problems.
While rare, some head injuries that appear minor may actually be much more serious. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents speak with their child's healthcare provider following anything more than a light bump to the head. After a hit or bump to the head, if your child experiences loss of consciousness, severe headaches, vomiting, numbness, difficulty walking, confusion, a seizure, or anything else that makes you as a parent uncomfortable, contact your physician immediately. These are the type of symptoms may require swift medical attention.
For moderate to severe injuries, children sometimes require observation for several hours in the emergency department. X-rays or CT scans may also be necessary. As a rule of thumb, after 12 hours, if the child appears to be well, there is generally a low risk of any permanent injury.
Sports activities are common causes of head injuries, which is why protective gear, such as helmets and pads, should always be worn. When a child suffers a head injury during a game or competition, he should be immediately removed from the game, rested and evaluated for signs of serious symptoms. With mild injuries, kids can often return to normal activities after one week.
Nevertheless, parents can be assured that children are remarkably resilient. Those who experience minor head trauma typically recover completely without any long term complications. Even children with more severe head injuries typically make a full recovery.