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, and Vi Sudhipong, MD, an emergency medicine physician with Baptist HealthPlace On Demand, powered by Telescope Health, explained how to know when it's more than just a bump.
Take time to assess
"There are steps a person should always take immediately after hitting his or her head, no matter how insignificant it may seem," said Dr. Sudhipong. Assessing how you're feeling can help determine whether you have a minor or serious brain injury, or if it's really just a bump on the head.
Dr. Sudhipong recommended taking time to check for the following symptoms:
- Unequal pupils that don't respond to light
- Clear fluid or blood coming from the ears
- Visual changes
- Loss of balance or motor/sensory function
- Memory loss
- Difficulty speaking
- Lightheadedness, dizziness or loss of consciousness
- Persistent nausea or vomiting, especially if accompanied by a headache
"If any of these symptoms are present, you should have someone else drive you to the Emergency Room or call for an ambulance," said Dr. Sudhipong. "If you're taking a blood thinner medication and think you may have a head injury, you should go to the ER immediately to get a CT scan and rule out any bleeding in the brain."
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 obtained."
Dr. Sudhipong added, "Minor head injuries are often treated with close observation, rest, icepacks and Tylenol™ for discomfort. Initially 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."
"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, to help clinically categorize the brain injury."
Dr. Sudhipong explained that like mild head injuries, TBIs can also be caused by a fall, motor vehicle crash, sports accident or an assault.
"They can have similar symptoms to mild head injuries including severe headache, nausea, vomiting and confusion. That's why it's so important to be evaluated by a medical professional," said Dr. Sudhipong. "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.
Baptist Health and Wolfson Children's Emergency Centers are open 24/7 to help you when you need it most. To find a location near you and view current wait times, click here. If you're looking to connect online with a trusted local doctor any time, 24/7, get started with Baptist HealthPlace On Demand.