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It is common for children to bang or bump their head and it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether an injury is serious or not. Many head injuries are not serious and simply result in a bump or bruise. Occasionally, head injuries can result in damage to the brain. Any knock to the head that causes lumps, bruises, cuts or more severe injuries is classified as a head injury. If your child has received an injury to the head, they should see a doctor.
Concussion – traumatic brain injury that alters the way the brain functions. Effects of concussion are usually temporary but can include altered levels of consciousness, headaches, confusion, dizziness, memory loss of events surrounding the injury, and visual disturbance.Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) – an injury to the brain that has occurred at any time after birth. Causes of ABI can include infection, stroke or injury.Traumatic head injury – an injury caused by an impact to the head. Loss of consciousness – time when a person is unable to open their eyes, speak or follow commands. They have no awareness of stimulation from outside their body. Convulsion, seizure or fit – this can occur when there is a momentary imbalance within the electrical and chemical circuits in the brain. The imbalance may create a temporary disturbance in the way the brain controls awareness and responsiveness, and may cause unusual sensations and/or abnormal movements and postures.
The symptoms experienced after a head injury are used to determine how serious the injury is. Head injuries can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. The information below is a guideline. If you see any of these symptoms in your child following an injury to the head, please seek medical assistance.
You should call 000 for an ambulance immediately if your child has a severe head injury.
You should call 000 for an ambulance immediately if your child has a moderate head injury.
You should seek medical advice if any of the above symptoms are concerning you, otherwise continue to observe your child for any of the signs and symptoms listed below.
NB: Children often become fatigues (i.e. get tired) quickly after a head injury, and this can exaggerate any of these following symptoms.
Remember, if you have any difficulty in waking your child, take them to the nearest emergency department or call an ambulance on 000
Your child may:
This is a special kind of fatigue or tiredness and is a common problem that can happen after a head injury. When a child has cognitive fatigue, it means their brain has to work harder to concentrate on tasks it used to be able to do easily, for example watching TV, playing computer games, or having a long conversation. Cognitive fatigue is not related to a child’s intellectual capacity or physical energy levels, and can lead to behavioural problems, mood swings and educational difficulties.
If your child experiences cognitive fatigue they may need extra rest periods and a gradual return to activities such as school that require periods of greater concentration or thinking.
Please also refer to the Kids Health Info factsheet: Head Injury - return to sport.
A minimum of one week away from school is recommended for children who have sustained a head injury that requires medical attention. It is important to let the school know about your child’s head injury. If your child is tired, allow them to return to school and other activities gradually. An individual plan will be recommended for your child as every head injury is different. Discuss the details with your child's treating team.
We recommend your child be off school for __________ weeks. Your child may return to school for half days on this date __________________________________________________
Your child should avoid sports and activities that involve height and speed, and any other activities where they are at risk of another head injury.
Your child may be able to participate in sports listed below after six weeks, however, this will be determined by the treating medical team when your child attends a clinic for a follow up appointment.
Following a head injury your child’s reaction times and thinking may be slower, and this can put them at risk of further injury.
At risk sports and activities include:
Make sure your child always wears a helmet when bike riding or skateboarding.
It is important to encourage gradual return to physical activity. Encourage your child’s participation in gentle physical activities such as the following:
If your child’s behaviour is very different to their normal behaviour, or the pain does not go away, go back to the doctor or to your nearest hospital emergency department.