Mayo Clinic Health Library

Head trauma

Updated: 12-15-2011

Most head trauma involves injuries that are minor and don't require hospitalization. However, call 911 or your local emergency number if any of the following signs or symptoms are apparent.

Adults

  • Severe head or facial bleeding
  • Bleeding or fluid leakage from the nose or ears
  • Severe headache
  • Change in level of consciousness for more than a few seconds
  • Black-and-blue discoloration below the eyes or behind the ears
  • Cessation of breathing
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Weakness or an inability to use an arm or leg
  • Unequal pupil size
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures

Children

  • Any of the signs or symptoms for adults
  • Persistent crying
  • Refusal to eat
  • Bulging in the soft spot on the front of the head (infants)
  • Repeated vomiting

If severe head trauma occurs

  • Keep the person still. Until medical help arrives, keep the injured person lying down and quiet, with the head and shoulders slightly elevated. Don't move the person unless necessary, and avoid moving the person's neck. If the person is wearing a helmet, don't remove it.
  • Stop any bleeding. Apply firm pressure to the wound with sterile gauze or a clean cloth. But don't apply direct pressure to the wound if you suspect a skull fracture.
  • Watch for changes in breathing and alertness. If the person shows no signs of circulation (breathing, coughing or movement), begin CPR.

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