Head trauma can cause swelling inside the brain. This can lead to a potentially deadly increase in pressure inside the skull. Head injury also can seriously damage brain cells.
Each year in the United States, head injuries result in more than 1 million emergency room visits and more than 50,000 deaths, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). In addition, approximately 230,000 people are hospitalized for traumatic brain injury in the U.S. and survive. The most common causes of head injuries are auto and motorcycle accidents, falls, and violent assaults.
Head injuries can cause a wide variety of symptoms, depending on the type, severity, and location of the injury. Sometimes, the signs and symptoms may not show up right away. According to the NINDS, head injuries fall into three categories:
Mild head injury. The person sustains some injury to the outside of the head, but he or she may not lose consciousness or may lose consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. The injured person may feel dazed and complain of a headache.
Moderate head injury. The person is injured on the outside of the head and may lose consciousness for a longer period of time. Other symptoms can include memory loss, headache, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, and confusion. The area around the eyes may be a different color. A clear fluid may ooze from the nose.
Severe head injury. There may be serious damage to the outside of the head but external signs of trauma are not always visible. This person may have similar symptoms as those above only more severe. In most cases, the person is either unconscious or barely responsive.
These recommendations from the NINDS can help prevent head injuries:
If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. Never drink and drive.
Wear a seat belt every time you ride in a car.
Buckle your child into the appropriate child safety seat every time the child rides in a car.
Always wear a seat belt in a motor vehicle and a helmet when on a motorcycle.
Wear the correct safety headgear when you’re riding a bike, skiing, snowboarding, playing football, riding horses, or in-line skating. Make sure it fits well.
Never work on a ladder if you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Alcohol can make you dizzy. Some medicines also can make you dizzy or affect your balance.
Have your vision checked at least once a year. Poor vision can increase your risk for falls and other types of accidents.
See your doctor or call 911 if you have a head injury. Your doctor may decide to monitor you in the emergency room. When you’re released, the doctor will want someone to stay with you at home for a day or two to keep track of your condition.