Falls and bumps are part of growing up. Whatever the cause — rolling off the changing table, slipping on the stairs, colliding with other kids head-on — head injuries shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a disruption in the normal function of the brain caused by a bump, blow, jolt or penetrating head injury.
At maximum risk for these types of injuries, per the CDC, are children ages 0-4 and 15-19.
Being alert to symptoms is especially important for children not yet talking. In cases of older children, there’s also the possibility they’ll ignore injuries and not report them to you. As a parent, it’s important to be vigilant, whatever the age of your child.
When to Call a Doctor About Head Injuries in Children
When a child is bleeding from a fall, or gets a large bump after tumble, it can be obvious they should be taken to the hospital. Confusion arises, however, in with mild injuries when the child remains alert and displays normal behavior.
Dr. Apeksha Pathak, a pediatrician, tells Parentology, “Bruises and swelling are immediately visible, but in case of concussion, you need to explore a bit. Try touching and applying a bit of pressure around the area where the child has taken the hit. If the child starts whimpering, crying or is uncomfortable, that’s a sign of concussion.”
Here are additional signs to look for:
- Nausea – Toddlers are more likely to feel uncomfortable or retch rather than vomit.
- Projectile vomiting – Apeksha says brain injuries produce a different type of vomiting, where the vomit falls far off from the child’s body, as if a stone has been thrown.
- Convulsions – Dilated pupils, tongue bite, rigid hands and legs are some symptoms of convulsions.
- Persistent headache – If the headache refuses to go away, this could indicate a more serious brain injury.
Even if the above symptoms don’t occur after 24 hours, keep an eye out for these signs in the following days or weeks:
- Fluid from nose or ears.
- Difficulty waking the child.
- Inability to nurse or eat properly.
- Tired or anxious all the time.
- Sensitive to noise or light.
Always call a doctor and explain your child’s condition. If the doctor asks you to go to an emergency room or hospital, do so immediately.
The First 24 Hours are Crucial
Even if you visited the emergency room, it’s important to observe your child closely for the 24 hours following a head injury. Research published in the January 2019 Annals of Emergency Medicine concludes children taken to emergency room or hospital more than 24 hours after sustaining a head injury are more likely to have severe traumatic brain injury as compared to those tended to within 24 hours.
Precautions to Take
Prevention is key when it comes to any injury. With potential TBIs in mind, take these safety measures:
- Ensure appropriate head gear while cycling, skateboarding or roller skating.
- Put heavy rubber mats in the play area, below all toys.
- Do not have rugs, pots or decorative items in playing zone.
- Never leave a child alone in elevated areas from where it can fall.
And to reinforce the messages from above: If, despite all precautions, your child suffers a head injury, immediately contact your doctor and/or go to an emergency room.