Head injuries are one of the injuries that quite frankly, scare the crap out me. I assume it is because of my ER background. Unfortunately, when you have seen the worst of the worst, you tend to always assume the worst. But this does not need to be the case!
There are very clear cut signs of a head injury that needs attention. This just makes sense, right? Toddlers walk around with a permanent bruise on their forehead for months when they are learning to walk and somehow they survive (I always say that this is the one part of motherhood that no one warned me about). But there are certainly signs to watch for after a head injury occurs, and I would love to address though here.
Often in articles about illness or injury related to children, phrases like "trust your gut" or "if you don't sense a problem" will appear. Why is this? Because YOU know YOUR child better than anyone else. If someone is going to notice even a subtle change in behavior, it is going to be you. So first and foremost, when an injury has occurred, stop... take a breath... and look at your child. You are assessing your child for a problem, and you will know very quickly if your child needs attention after a head injury. If you are asking yourself, what am I supposed to be looking for? Read on.
If your child is an infant, it can be difficult to recognize the signs. My rule of thumb with an infant is to take them in to the ER if they have sustained any type of injury. They are quite a bit more fragile, and it is too difficult to assess changes in behavior. Babies often cry, spit up, and fall asleep at the drop of a hat... so.... just take them in to be evaluated.
When it comes to kids, there are many clear cut signs and symptoms of a head injury. Keep in mind that most head injuries will be to the scalp only, but they can bleed heavily. Apply pressure and ice. The anxiety of the parents is typically worse than the injury, but this is to be expected. I still panic, only escalating my own child's anxiety. Here is what to watch for:
-loss of consciousness (passing out) -seizure -an inconsolable child -abnormal breathing -behavior change -walking or talking abnormally -complaints of vision changes -vomiting several times -pupils of unequal size -complaints of severe headache -neck pain -clear fluid from the nose, ears, or mouth
With any of these symptoms, your child needs to be taken to the ER. Always call an ambulance if you feel your child needs immediate help. You should always be watching for these signs up to 24 hours after a head injury. If the injury occurred close to bedtime or naptime, then you will want to wake the child 2-3 times during the night. They should arouse as they normally would. If they are difficult to wake, then this would be definite cause for concern (unless this is typical for your child... I have a child that sleeps like the dead). You do not need to keep your child awake all night after a head injury. If they seem "normal" to you at bedtime, then let them rest, just wake them periodically.
A head injury can be scary, but they typically are not serious. The most reassuring part is that you know your child well, and you will recognize the signs of an internal injury, even if the changes are subtle, before anyone else will. You got this.