Head Trauma (Traumatic Brain Injury)

Man grabbing his head in pain in the kitchen. Woman calling for help on telephone.Head trauma can be fatal. The effects from some types of head trauma may not appear right away. So it’s important to get medical attention for any severe head injury.


Don't move a person with a head injury unless it is necessary to save his or her life. Call 911 and wait for help. Head trauma often comes with severe neck injury. Sudden movements can result in paralysis.

Call 911

Call 911right away after a head blow that results in:

  • Prolonged loss of consciousness (more than a few seconds) or somnolence (prolonged drowsiness) 

  • Memory problems or confusion

  • Severe headache

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Pupils dilated or different sizes

  • Severe bleeding

  • Blood or watery fluid leaking from nose or ears

  • Broken skull or a soft spot on skull

  • Slow breathing

  • Loss of balance

  • Weakness of or trouble using an arm or leg

  • Slurred speech

  • Seizure

What to expect in the ER

Here is what will happen: 

  • A neurological exam is likely. This is a series of simple questions and tests that evaluate the nervous system. Reflexes, response to pain, and mental state are assessed.

  • The healthcare provider shines a bright light into the eyes to check how the pupils respond. This can reveal more about any head injuries.

  • A CT scan may be done. A CT scan does not always need to be done, especially if symptoms are minor or have resolved. This test combines X-rays and computer scans to create detailed images of the brain.

Treatment for head trauma

Here is what is generally done: 

  • Sometimes, severe head injuries cause bleeding on the brain that needs to be treated right away with surgery. In certain cases, the injured person will be watched closely and taken for surgery only if injuries become worse. After surgery, special care helps prevent further brain damage.

  • Minor head trauma may need little treatment beyond pain control. The healthcare provider may suggest using cold packs to reduce swelling and pain.

Once you are home

At home, call 911right away if the affected person:

  • Becomes very drowsy or confused

  • Has a headache or trouble seeing

  • Has a stiff neck or muscle weakness

  • Vomits

  • Has seizures

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© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.