Head injury and concussion

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:

Do

  • 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

Don't

  • 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

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 24 March 2021
Next review due: 24 March 2024