First Aid for Head Injuries
Any blow to the head can result in a head injury. Head injuries can cause damage to the:

Blood from broken vessels may seep into the brain even though you may not be able to see any bumps, cuts or bruises. The blood has nowhere to go because skull bones don't expand. This puts pressure on the vital areas of the brain. This can cause serious problems.

Bleeding in the brain often starts within the first 24 hours after a head injury and can last for three days or longer. It is very important that you watch for signs and symptoms of a serious head injury during the first 24 hours.

[Note: Also, suspect a neck injury when there is a blow to the head. (See "Neck and Spine Injury".)]

Signs and Symptoms of head injuries that alert the need for medical care include:

Note: Some of these signs can happen at the time of the injury. Other times they come later.

Prevention

Ways to prevent head injuries:

Questions to Ask

With head injury, does the victim have any of these signs?
  • No pulse
  • No breathing
  • Neck injury
Yes: Seek CareGive First Aid
No
Get Emergency Care and give first aid before emergency care:

NOTE: IF YOU SUSPECT A NECK OR BACK INJURY IN YOU OR SOMEONE ELSE, YOU MUST KEEP THE NECK AND/OR BACK PERFECTLY STILL UNTIL AN EMERGENCY CREW ARRIVES. DO NOT MOVE SOMEONE WITH A SUSPECTED NECK OR SPINE INJURY UNLESS THE PERSON MUST BE MOVED BECAUSE HIS OR HER SAFETY IS IN DANGER. ANY MOVEMENT OF THE HEAD, NECK OR BACK COULD RESULT IN PARALYSIS OR DEATH. IMMOBILIZE THE NECK BY HOLDING THE HEAD, NECK AND SHOULDERS PERFECTLY STILL. USE BOTH HANDS, ONE ON EACH SIDE OF THE HEAD. (See "Neck/Spine Injury".)

  • Check for breathing and pulse. If no breathing and no pulse, do CPR.* (See "CPR".*)
  • If no breathing, but there is a pulse, do rescue breathing. (See "Airway and Breathing".)

    * If you suspect a neck injury: Do not tilt the head back or move the head or neck when you do the "Airway and Breathing" part of CPR.

  • Instead, pull the lower jaw (chin) forward to open the airway.
  • Control bleeding. (See "First Aid" in next question to ask.)
Is the victim of a head injury bleeding? Yes: Seek CareGive First Aid
No
Get Emergency Care and give first aid before emergency care:
  • If bleeding from the scalp:
    • Control bleeding by putting pressure around the edges of the wound, not on the wound. Make a ring pad (shaped like a doughnut) with a narrow bandage or narrow, but long strips of cloth. Start with one end of the narrow bandage and wrap it around all four fingers on one hand until you form a loop. Leave a long strip of the bandage material to weave in and around the loop so it doesn't ravel. Use this ring pad to apply pressure around the edges of the wound.
    • Don't wash the wound or apply an antiseptic or any other fluid to it.
  • If blood or pink-colored fluid is coming from the ear, nose or mouth, let it drain. Do not try to stop its flow.
Is the head injury victim unconscious longer than five minutes? Yes: Seek CareGive First Aid
No
Get Emergency Care and give first aid before emergency care:
  • Immobilize the victim's head and neck in the position in which they were found. Place rolled towels, articles of clothing, etc. on both sides of the head and neck Tie and wrap in place, but don't interfere with the victim's breathing. If necessary, use your hands, one on each side of the victim's head to keep the head from moving. Roll the victim on his or her side. This position will allow any vomit to drain and keep the airway open.
  • Monitor for breathing and pulse. (See CPR.)
  • Keep the victim's head and shoulders slightly elevated if neck or spinal injury is not suspected.
  • Do not give the victim anything to drink or eat.
  • Do not elevate the victim's legs.
Is the head injury victim unconscious less than 5 minutes? Yes:See DoctorGive First Aid
No
See Doctor and give first aid before seeing doctor:
  • Lift the victim's head and shoulders if neck and spinal injury are not suspected, but don't elevate the legs.
  • Do not give victim anything to drink or eat.
Do any of these problems occur within 48 hours of a head injury?
  • Headache that lasts longer than one or two days or gets worse with time
  • Inability to move arms or legs, weakness in limbs
  • Blurred or double vision, pupils of unequal size
  • Slurred speech
  • Convulsions
  • Drowsiness or it is hard to awaken the victim
  • Memory loss, confusion, disorientation
  • Nausea, vomiting, dry heaves
Yes:See Doctor
No
 
Give First Aid
 

First Aid

[NOTE: Do not give aspirin or any medication that has salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger unless a doctor tells you to.]

American Institute of Preventive Medicine