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About Sickkids
About SickKids

When is a bump on the head cause for concern?

By Carolyn Gooderham

With spring upon us and the summer months approaching, many children and families will be participating in new physical activities. But learning to ride a bike or playing a sport like soccer comes with some risk of injury. For many common children’s injuries, the symptoms are pretty obvious. A hanging shoulder is evidently dislocated; a large gash to the head clearly requires stitches. Other ailments like brain injuries can be much more difficult to recognize and diagnose. Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) can result in a wide range of symptoms that may present themselves immediately, or up to several weeks later.

When should you seek emergency care for a head injury?

Any head injury can put a child at risk for concussion. If you think your child may have a concussion, they should see a doctor the same day the injury occurred. If the concussion occurs while participating in a sport activity, the child should stop the activity immediately. It’s important to note that concussions do not always result in a loss of consciousness.

Symptoms are slightly different depending on age. Infants have difficulty communicating their needs, so brain injuries can go unnoticed.

Signs and symptoms of serious brain injuries in children and teenagers can include:

  • Headaches that do not go away or get worse
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Confusion, agitation, or unusual behavior
  • Trouble seeing, speaking, or walking
  • Weakness, numbness or decreased co-ordination of an arm or leg
  • Drowsiness (sleepiness)
  • Seizures (convulsions)

In addition to the symptoms listed above, signs of serious brain injuries in infants can include:

  • Poor feeding
  • Being unable to stop crying or be consoled
  • Appearing very drowsy and unable to be wakened
  • Tense bulging of the fontanelle (soft spot on top of the head)

There are preventative measures you can take to reduce the risk of head injury:

  • Put a helmet on: Wear protective headgear when biking, scootering, rollerblading, skateboarding, riding ATVs etc. (or when required for various sports including hockey, football, baseball, horseback riding) and make sure that protective headgear is fitted properly to your child’s head! This video created by AboutKidsHealth.ca demonstrates how to properly fit a helmet.
  • Talk about it: Discuss with your child or teenager the importance of reporting symptoms (especially if they participate in contact sports). Older children may be unwilling to talk about it with their parents and may not realize the potential long-term implications of brain injuries.
  • Protect them at home: Install window guards and safety gates to prevent children from falling out of windows or down the stairs, and use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower.
  • Play somewhere safe: Playgrounds built on shock-absorbing material such as mulch, rubber or pea gravel are the safest.

Information provided by AboutKidsHealth.ca.