Most people won’t get through their life without hitting their head. After all, accidents happen, and a minor bump usually isn’t cause for concern. But sometimes hitting your head can lead to a serious injury—and it’s important to know when you can walk it off and when you should head straight to the emergency room.
“A head injury is serious if it causes an artery or vein to burst and leads to bleeding in your brain,” says Omar Danoun, M.D., a neurologist with Henry Ford Health. “The most dangerous place to hit your head is on either side of your head, just above your ears. The skull is thinnest there, and there’s an artery that can burst and cause direct bleeding in the brain.”
If too much blood seeps into the brain, it can put a tremendous amount of pressure on the brain, leading to a coma or even death. Dr. Danoun shares six symptoms that tell you a head injury requires medical attention.
- You experience unconsciousness for more than five minutes.
- You’re nauseous. Increased pressure on your brain can lead to nausea and vomiting.
- One side of your body feels weak. Blood can push on areas of the brain that control movement (that’s your arms and legs), making you feel weak.
- You’re confused. Confusion, blurred vision, being slow to respond, having difficulty finding your words and being sensitive to light and sound are all signs of a concussion.
- You’re having a seizure. If you have a seizure after sustaining head injury, it likely means that blood is irritating the brain.
- You have a headache. If hitting your head gives you a headache, don’t shrug it off. “Head trauma and headaches are not a good combination,” Dr. Danoun says. “The headache could be due to internal bleeding in the brain.”
You might not experience these symptoms immediately, so monitor yourself for a few hours after your injury. “You could have slow and steady bleeding that causes symptoms to accumulate over time,” says Dr. Danoun. “It’s important to stay vigilant. If and when you do experience symptoms, head to the emergency room.”
The sooner you go to the hospital, the sooner you can receive proper care to prevent long-term damage or death. Doctors will determine whether you have internal bleeding with a CT scan, which is an X-ray of the brain. If they find excessive bleeding, they’ll perform surgery to remove it. (If you have just a small amount of bleeding, surgery won’t be necessary, as it will clot and your body will absorb it over a few weeks, Dr. Danoun says.)
The key is not leaving it up to chance. Don’t try to diagnose yourself or brush it off, especially if you are age 65 or older. As we age, our brain, arteries and veins become more fragile and more prone to injury. So when in doubt? Head to the doctor.
Dr. Omar Danoun is a neurologist with Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Henry Ford Medical Center in Taylor.