Most head injuries are not serious. You do not usually need to go to hospital and should make a full recovery within 2 weeks.
Urgent advice: Go to the emergency department (ED) after a head injury if you or your child have:
- been knocked out but have now woken up
- been vomiting since the injury
- a headache that does not go away with painkillers
- a change in behaviour, like being more irritable
- problems with memory
- been drinking alcohol or taking drugs just before the injury
- a blood clotting disorder (like haemophilia) or take blood-thinners (like warfarin)
- had brain surgery in the past
You or your child could have concussion.
Symptoms usually start within 24 hours but sometimes may not appear for up to 3 weeks.
Immediate action required: Call 999 or 112 if someone has hit their head and has:
- been knocked out and hasn't woken up
- difficulty staying awake or keeping their eyes open
- a fit (seizure)
- problems with their vision
- clear fluid coming from their ears or nose
- bleeding from their ears or bruising behind their ears
- numbness or weakness in part of their body
- problems with walking, balance, understanding, speaking or writing
- hit their head in a serious accident, such as a car crash
Also call 999 or 112 if you cannot get someone to ED safely.
How to treat a minor head injury
If you do not need to go to hospital, you can usually look after yourself or your child at home.
It's normal to have symptoms such as a slight headache, or feeling sick or dazed, for up to 2 weeks.
To help recovery:
hold an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas in a tea towel) to the injury regularly for short periods in the first few days to bring down any swelling
rest and avoid stress – you or your child do not need to stay awake if you're tired
limit any activity that worsens symptoms (headache, fatigue, poor concentration) and consider reducing screen time from computer, TV or phone
take paracetamol to relieve pain or a headache – do not use ibuprofen or aspirin as they could cause the injury to bleed
make sure an adult stays with you or your child for at least the first 24 hours
do not go back to work or school until you're feeling better
do not drive until you feel you've fully recovered
do not play contact sports for at least 3 weeks – children should avoid rough play for a few days
do not take drugs or drink alcohol until you're feeling better
do not take sleeping pills while you're recovering – unless a doctor advises you to
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- your or your child's symptoms last more than 2 weeks
- you're not sure if it's safe for you to drive or return to work, school or sports
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE