When is a Head Injury an Emergency?

Head Injuries

Mar 13, 2024


It’s no secret that a head wound is a scary injury. It is often the case that head injuries seem minor at first, but they can quickly become medical emergencies. Because of the difficulty in assessing when head injuries require medical attention, they should always be taken seriously no matter the circumstances, from minor bumps to severe trauma.

How can I tell if a head injury is mild or severe? 

When is a head injury an emergency? A head injury should be considered an emergency if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Visible blood on the head
  • Loss of consciousness, confusion, or disorientation
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Slurred speech 
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty moving arms or legs
  • Seizures
  • Clear fluid draining from the nose or ears
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Memory loss
  • Changes in behavior or personality

Common causes of head injuries

A head injury is classified as any type of trauma to the scalp, skull, or brain, which can include bumps, bruises, cuts, or penetration. Head injuries can occur for a multitude of reasons, but the most common reasons that we see in the emergency room typically stem from a:

  • Sports injury (with concussions being the most common) 
  • Slip and fall injury
  • Car accident
  • Biking accident
  • Collisions with a hard surface 
  • Direct blow to the head
  • Violent movement that causes the brain to shake

The severity of a head injury can vary greatly — some head wounds may only require rest and monitoring, while others may require immediate medical attention. This is what makes knowing when is a head injury an emergency all the more important. In many cases, it could be life-saving knowledge to have.

How do I know if my head injury is serious?

If you experience any of the following symptoms after sustaining a head injury, have someone take you to the emergency room as soon as possible.

1. Loss of consciousness

Loss of consciousness can be a sign of a serious head injury because it suggests that the brain has been significantly affected by trauma. If you lose consciousness, it indicates that the brain’s normal functioning has been disrupted, which can result from either direct impact, bleeding in the brain, or swelling. Potential damage to the brain can result in lasting brain damage or even death if not properly and promptly treated.

Can you go to sleep after hitting your head? It is very common for people who have experienced head injuries to feel fatigued or drowsy. The idea that someone should refrain from sleeping after a head injury is actually a common misconception, and it is generally safe for people to rest immediately after a head injury. 

While it’s generally safe to rest after a mild head injury, this does not mean that they should be left alone without medical treatment. It is essential to monitor for any concerning symptoms, such as changes in consciousness or difficulty waking up, and to seek medical treatment if necessary. 

2. Severe headache

A severe headache after a head injury can be a sign of a serious condition, such as a concussion or brain bleed. If the headache is accompanied by other symptoms, such as confusion or difficulty speaking, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.

If you’re wondering when to go to the ER for migraine symptoms, migraines are typically not considered medical emergencies unless accompanied by other symptoms such as confusion, weakness, or loss of consciousness.

3. Changes in behavior 

If you notice that a loved one is exhibiting different behaviors after they have sustained a head injury, it could be a sign that damage has been done to the brain. These changes can include irritability, aggression, or difficulty concentrating. Once you notice these changes, take them to an emergency room to have them examined and explain when and how their injury occurred.

4. Seizures

If you or a loved one have a seizure after a head injury, this could indicate that there is abnormal electrical activity happening in the brain. Seizures can occur due to a number of factors, including structural damage, bleeding, or swelling in the brain caused by the injury. 

If this is a one-time occurrence and the person inflicted by the injury has never had a seizure prior to this one, call 911 immediately and wait for an ambulance. Persistent seizures or seizures that happen one right after the other can be deadly if not treated.

5. Immobility or loss of function

If you are unable to function properly after a head injury, you need to be examined medically to ensure no permanent damage occurs. Examples of immobility or loss of function include:

  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Slurred speech 
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty moving arms or legs
  • Memory loss

These are common signs that your brain is not functioning the way that it should. Now that you know when is a head injury an emergency, you need to know what to do after a head injury occurs. The following tips will be useful whether you are the injured person or are helping someone else who has been injured.

What should you do immediately after hitting your head?

  • Assess the situation: Determine the severity of the injury and look for any signs of trauma or bleeding. Note that the adrenaline rush from the injury can also delay or dull sensations of pain, so you may not feel hurt immediately after an accident. If you or the hurt individual is unconscious or experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, seek medical attention.
  • Apply first aid if you can: If there’s bleeding, apply gentle pressure to the wound with a clean cloth or bandage before heading to a nearby emergency room for help.
  • Seek medical attention: If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, seek emergency medical care as soon as you can. You can either call an ambulance or head to a nearby ER for assistance and examination.
  • Rest and monitor: Rest in a comfortable position and monitor for any signs of worsening symptoms. Avoid any physical activity and give your body time to heal.

How do you treat head trauma in the ER?

What will the ER do for a concussion or other head injuries? First, the doctor will examine your head to look for any obvious signs of trauma while asking you or a loved one for a detailed account of the injury. Using our state-of-the-art imaging services, your doctor will order X-rays and CT scans to get a proper diagnosis. Then, they’ll make a treatment plan based on the severity of your injuries. 

Treatment may involve medication for pain management, monitoring for any signs of complications like bleeding or swelling in the brain, and in some cases, surgery to relieve pressure or repair damaged tissue. You will also be told to abstain from physical activity and give yourself plenty of time to rest until your symptoms subside. 

Head to Complete Care for prompt head injury treatment

So, when is a head injury an emergency? As a rule of thumb, we typically treat all head injuries as emergencies due to the delicate nature of our brains and the difficulty in predicting the severity of even minor injuries. Even if you have a small head wound, bruising, or a severe headache that doesn’t appear to be an emergency, it’s still wise to seek medical attention to ensure that no damage has been done. 

Complete Care is a freestanding ER that is open 24/7 to diagnose and treat any head injuries for you or your loved ones. We understand that head injuries are never planned and require rapid care, which is why we prioritize low wait times: so that you can be taken care of as quickly as possible.

We have multiple locations in Texas (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas/Fort Worth, East Texas, Lubbock, and San Antonio) and in Colorado Springs. You can trust us with your head injury treatment and care.  

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