Home > Health Library > Head Injury, Age 3 and Younger
Almost all children will bump their heads, especially when they are
babies or toddlers and are just learning to roll over, crawl, or walk. These
accidents may upset you, but your anxiety is usually worse than the injury.
Most head injuries in children are minor.
Head injury occurs more
often in young children than adults. When compared with adults:
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. A
superficial cut on the head often bleeds heavily because the face and scalp
have many blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. This bleeding is
alarming, but often the injury is not severe and you can stop the bleeding with
home treatment. When bleeding does not stop with home treatment, visit
a doctor because a young child can lose a large amount of blood from a deep cut
on the head.
The most common serious head injuries in young
children are caused by falls and abuse (inflicted head injuries), such as shaken baby syndrome. Serious head
injuries may involve injuries to the brain. The more force that is involved in
a head injury, the more likely it is that a serious injury to the brain has
occurred. If there has been a
high-energy injury to the head, there is a greater
likelihood that a serious injury has occurred. When a high-energy injury
occurs, it is even more important to assess the child for
signs of a serious head injury.
Following an injury, it can be hard to tell the difference between a
mild traumatic brain injury (concussion) and a more serious brain
injury. Watch the child carefully for 24 hours after a head injury to see
whether he or she develops any signs of a serious head injury.
When a head injury has occurred, look for injuries to other parts of the
body. The alarm of seeing a head injury may cause you to overlook other
injuries that 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 a head injury has occurred. Be sure to check for other injuries to the face, mouth, or teeth whenever there is a head injury.
Many head injuries can
be prevented. Use car seats, seat belts, helmets, and
make your home safe from falls to prevent an injury. Establish good safety
habits early so your child will continue them when he or she is older.
Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child
should see a doctor.
Babies' heads are easily damaged, and their neck muscles are
not strong enough to control the movement of the head. Shaking or throwing a baby can cause the head to jerk back and forth. This can
make the skull hit the brain with force, causing brain damage, serious vision
problems, or even death.
With severe bleeding, any of these may
With moderate bleeding, any of these may
With mild bleeding, any of these may be
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.
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly
after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock in a child may include:
Symptoms of a skull fracture may
Symptoms of a serious head injury may
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Other symptoms related to a head injury that may appear later include:
Symptoms of a spinal cord injury in a
child may include:
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
Call911or other emergency services now.
Put direct, steady pressure on the
wound until help arrives. Keep the area raised if you can.
Based on your answers, you need
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
Parents should watch their child for any problems after the injury. Home treatment can
help relieve swelling and bruising of the skin or scalp and pain that occurs
with a minor head injury.
Be sure to follow
the instructions given to you by your child's doctor. He or she will tell you what problems to look for and how closely to watch your child for the next 24 hours or longer.
Do not give any medicine, including
acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, to a child
you are watching for signs of a more serious head injury unless your doctor
tells you to.
Call your child's doctor if any of the following occur during home
Each new learning stage for your baby
requires increased attention on your part to prevent an injury. It may surprise
you how fast your baby can move from one stage to the next. Being aware of your
baby's abilities and what skills he or she is likely to develop next will help
you prevent injuries. A nursery equipment safety checklist will help you keep your baby's environment safe.
Always be gentle with your baby. Be sure to protect your baby from a brain injury.
Shaking or slapping a baby in anger can cause an
injury to the brain. If a baby has been shaken or slapped, it is your
responsibility to notify your doctor.
Be aware of your baby's risk
of falling. Watch your baby carefully.
Take steps to prevent falls:
Practice good safety habits early so your child will continue
them when he or she is older:
For more information on health and safety for children, see the topics Health and Safety, Age Birth to 2 Years or Health and Safety, Ages 2 to 5 Years.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your child's condition by being prepared to answer
the following questions:
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as ofFebruary 20, 2015
Current as of:
February 20, 2015
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
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