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Children often bump or bang their heads, and it can be difficult to tell whether an injury is serious or not. Any knock to the head is considered a head injury.
Head injuries are classified as mild, moderate or severe. Many head injuries are mild, and simply result in a small lump or bruise. Mild head injuries can be managed at home, but if your child has concussion symptoms, they should see a doctor.
You should call an ambulance immediately if your child:
Concussion – a mild traumatic brain injury that alters the way the brain functions. Concussion symptoms are usually temporary, but can include a range of physical symptoms (headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, visual problems, poor balance, sensitivity to noise), changes in emotion (anxiety, irritability, sadness), changes in thinking (fogginess, confusion, difficulty remembering, slower thinking), and sleep disturbances.
Loss of consciousness – when a person is unable to open their eyes, speak or follow commands. They have no awareness of stimulation from outside their body and may not remember the immediate periods before and after the injury.
The symptoms experienced straight after a head injury are used to determine how serious the injury is. The information below is a guideline.
If your child has a moderate or severe head injury, they may exhibit ‘red flag’ symptoms such as those listed above.
A mild head injury is when your child:
You should seek medical advice if your child develops new symptoms of head injury or you are worried about them. Otherwise, continue to observe your child for any of the signs and symptoms listed under care at home.
A concussion is when your child:
You should seek medical advice if your child has any of the above symptoms of concussion.
Children and adolescents with concussion can take up to four weeks to recover, but most concussions will get better on their own over several days. Following a mild head injury, your child should have a period of relative (not strict) rest for the first 24 to 48 hours. They should
return to activities of daily living and light physical activity (e.g. walking) but should minimise intense exercise, contact sports and screen time such as television, computers and smartphones during this time.
app can help manage concussion recovery at home and is freely available on the App store and Google store. HeadCheck is an interactive tool; the main benefit is allowing families to monitor children’s symptoms on a daily basis, and then providing examples of appropriate
activities based on symptoms and age.
Your child may have a headache after a head injury. Give them paracetamol, not ibuprofen or aspirin) every six hours if needed to relieve pain.
There is no need to wake your child during the night unless you have been advised to do so by a doctor. Call
an ambulance immediately if you have any difficulty waking your child.
Children who have had a head injury may develop symptoms at various times. Some of the symptoms may not be evident immediately after the initial injury, but may show up over a few days (e.g. fatigue, sleep problems, changes in mood).
If your child experiences any of the following 'red flag' symptoms, take
them to the doctor or nearest hospital emergency department immediately:
If your child has had a head injury, they should return to school and sport gradually. For moderate to severe head injuries, your doctor will advise you. For advice on returning your child to their usual activities if they have had a mild head injury, see our fact sheet Head injury – return to school and sport.
Fatigue is a common problem that can happen after a head injury. When a child has ‘excessive’ fatigue, it means their brain has to work harder on tasks that were usually easily done, for example doing school work, physical routines, watching TV, playing computer games, or having a long conversation.
Your child may experience some or all of the following symptoms after a concussion, and usually these will gradually decrease and resolve by four weeks post-injury:
If your child’s physical or cognitive performance or behaviour is very different to normal, or it is getting worse, take them back to the doctor or your nearest hospital emergency department.
While symptoms persist, children should have a period of relative (not strict) rest but should continue with activities of daily living and return to light physical activity e.g. walking. Children should have sufficient sleep, a healthy diet and limit watching of TV or playing on mobile electronic
devices. Allow your child to gradually return to reading and other activities that require periods of greater concentration or thinking.
How do I know if my child’s irritability and mood swings are because he is tired after the head injury, or something to worry about?
Children often become fatigued (tired) quickly after a head injury, and this can exaggerate any of the symptoms that may occur after the head injury, such as confusion, emotional disturbances and thinking problems. If you are worried, take them to see a doctor. If your child’s behaviour is very different to their normal behaviour, seek urgent medical assistance.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Emergency, Neurosurgery and Neuropsychology departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed October 2023
This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.
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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.