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A knock on the noggin

You hit your head, now what?

Article Author: Beverly Wong-Ken

Article Date:

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Whether you're coordinated or clumsy, you've likely accidentally hit your head at some point – and it probably hurt. Usually, when you knock your noggin, you may wince in pain, rub the spot and try to forget it ever happened. While it might be something you want to move past, it's important to take note of how you're feeling to determine whether to seek medical attention.

Kate Barrier, MD, an emergency medicine physician with Emergency Resources Group and medical director of Baptist and Wolfson Children's Emergency Center at Oakleaf, explained how to know when it's more than just a bump.

Assessing a head injury

“In the moment, it may be difficult to determine the severity of your injury,” said Dr. Barrier. “But no matter how minor it may seem, it's important to try and assess how you're feeling and be aware of signs and symptoms that may suggest a serious brain injury.”

Dr. Barrier said some of these symptoms may include:

  • Lightheadedness, dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • Memory loss (of the event or even events preceding it)
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty with balance

“If you notice any of these symptoms, you should seek evaluation at your nearest Emergency Room by calling an ambulance or having someone else drive you,” said Dr. Barrier. “It’s also important to mention that folks over the age of 65 or those on blood thinner medications are at increased risk of a serious head injury and should seek immediate medical attention after an injury.”

Minor head injuries

Don't be fooled by the name. Even if a head injury is considered "minor," it can still cause worrisome symptoms.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a mild head injury as an impact or forceful motion to the head that causes a brief alteration of mental status," explained Dr. Barrier. "This might include confusion, disorientation, amnesia [forgetting] of events just after the injury, or temporary loss of consciousness. Other symptoms can include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sleep disruption."

Dr. Barrier said some common cases she sees in the Emergency Center happen from a fall, an assault or a motor vehicle crash.

"Minor head injuries should always be evaluated by a medical professional," said Dr. Barrier. "This includes a neurological assessment, which can take place on an athletic field, at a doctor's office or in the Emergency Center. If deemed necessary, a CT scan of the head may be performed."

She added, "Minor head injuries are often treated with close observation, rest, icepacks and Tylenol™ for discomfort. Right after a head injury, it's better to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Aspirin™, Motrin™, Advil™ and ibuprofen since these medications can promote bleeding."

Traumatic head injuries

"A traumatic brain injury (TBI) affects how the brain works," Dr. Barrier explained. "TBIs are broken down into categories of mild concussion, moderate and severe. In the Emergency Center, we often use the Glasgow Coma Score (GCS), which measures a person's level of consciousness after an incident, along with any other neurological symptoms, to help clinically categorize the brain injury. For children with head injuries, we follow the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) head injury prediction rule, which can help reduce unnecessary CT scans in children, thereby reducing radiation exposure."

Dr. Barrier explained that like mild head injuries, TBIs can also be caused by a fall, motor vehicle crash, sports accident or an assault and can have similar symptoms to minor head injuries including severe headache, nausea, vomiting and confusion. Other symptoms of TBIs include agitation, combativeness, loss of coordination, loss of consciousness, and seizures or convulsions.

"If you think you might have a TBI, you should first and foremost seek medical attention immediately," said Dr. Barrier.

The bottom line? If you think it might be more than just a bump on the head, go see the professionals.

Did you hit your head?

Baptist Health and Wolfson Children's Emergency Centers are open 24/7 to help you when you need it most. Click here to view locations throughout Northeast Florida, including a NEW Emergency Center in St. Augustine. If you're looking to connect online with a trusted local doctor any time, 24/7, get started with Baptist HealthPlace On Demand.

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