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Home > Health Library > Head Injury, Age 3 and Younger
Almost all children will bump their heads, especially when they are babies or toddlers and are just learning to roll over, crawl, or walk. These accidents may upset you, but your anxiety is usually worse than the injury. Most head injuries in children are minor.
Head injuries occur more often in young children than adults. When compared with adults:
Bumps, cuts, and scrapes on the head and face most often heal well and can be treated the same as injuries to other parts of the body. A minor cut on the head often bleeds heavily. This is because the face and scalp have many blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. The blood is alarming, but often the injury is not severe and you can stop the bleeding with home treatment. When you can't stop the bleeding, visit a doctor. A young child can lose a large amount of blood from a deep cut on the head.
Some head injuries are more serious. This is called a traumatic brain injury (TBI). A TBI can range from a mild concussion to a severe head injury. Common causes of a severe head injury in this age group include falls and abuse (inflicted head injuries), such as abusive head trauma. This is also known as shaken baby syndrome.
Anyone with a head injury should be watched, especially from the causes noted above. If you think that any symptoms may be serious, see a doctor for an evaluation.
When a head injury has occurred, also look for injuries to other parts of the body. The alarm of seeing a head injury may cause you to miss other injuries that need attention. Trouble breathing, shock, spinal injuries, and severe bleeding are all life-threatening injuries that may occur along with a head injury and that need medical attention right away. Injuries to the spine, especially the neck, must be checked for when a head injury has occurred. Be sure to check for other injuries to the face, mouth, or teeth.
Many head injuries can be prevented. Use car seats, seat belts, and helmets. And make your home safe from falls. For example, never leave your baby alone in a high place, such as on a table or a bed. Establish safe habits early so your child will keep doing them when your child is older.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
With severe bleeding, any of these may be true:
With moderate bleeding, any of these may be true:
With mild bleeding, any of these may be true:
Other symptoms related to a head injury that may appear later include:
Symptoms of a spinal cord injury in a child may include:
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly after a sudden illness or injury.
Babies and young children often have several symptoms of shock. These include:
Symptoms of a skull fracture may include:
Symptoms of a serious head injury may include:
Babies' heads are easily damaged, and their neck muscles are not strong enough to control the movement of the head. Shaking or throwing a baby can cause the head to jerk back and forth. This can make the skull hit the brain with force, causing brain damage, serious vision problems, or even death.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Put direct, steady pressure on the wound until help arrives. Keep the area raised if you can.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Do not move the person unless there is an immediate threat to the person's life, such as a fire. If you have to move the person, keep the head and neck supported and in a straight line at all times. If the person has had a diving accident and is still in the water, float the person face up in the water.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Many minor head injuries, such as bumps, cuts, and scrapes, can be treated at home. Home treatment can help relieve swelling and bruising of the skin or scalp and the pain that occurs with a minor head injury.
Always watch children for any problems after a head injury. If you think that any symptoms may be serious, see a doctor for an evaluation.
Do not give any medicine, including over-the-counter acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, to a child you are watching for signs of a more serious head injury unless your doctor tells you to.
Follow these steps to treat a child age 3 or younger at home for a minor head injury (such as a bump, cut, or scrape).
If your child had an accident, try to stay calm and speak to your child in a calm, relaxed voice. This will help reduce your child's fear and allow you to assess the situation.
Apply firm pressure directly over the cut with a clean cloth or bandage for 15 minutes. If the cut is deep and may have penetrated the skull, emergency treatment is needed.
Check for injuries to other parts of the body, especially if your child has fallen. The alarm from seeing a head injury may cause you to miss other injuries that need attention.
Most injuries are not caused by abuse. But bruises are often the first sign of possible abuse. Suspect physical abuse of a child or vulnerable adult when:
You may be able to prevent further injuries by reporting abuse. Seek help if:
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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