"My kid bumped his head!" When you should seek medical attention
“Every potential head injury in children should be taken seriously. As parents, we need to be aware of the risks of this common type of childhood injury so that we can ensure our children receive appropriate medical assessment and treatment in the event of a head injury.” Emergency medicine practitioner Dr Bianca Visser explains why parents should pay close attention when a child takes a bump to the head.
"Children can have a severe concussion without losing consciousness." (iStock)
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Getting to know themselves and the environment around them make children particularly prone to bumping or sustaining blows to their heads. 

It can happen any number of ways like during play, or while participating in contact sports. 

For Dr Bianca Visser, a medical professional at the emergency department of Netcare Unitas Hospital, every blow and bump to the head warrants attention and at the very least, a medical assessment. 

Because symptoms of a concussion vary greatly, it may be difficult for parents to determine when to seek medical attention. 

What could be a serious injury may not come across as such for every child, but a loss in consciousness should not be the only yardstick parents use to gauge whether medical attention is necessary. 

"A ‘blackout’ after a head injury should not be considered as the only reason to take your child to the emergency department for a medical assessment. Children can have a severe concussion without losing consciousness," she explains. 

Acknowledging that not all bumps will result in serious injury, Dr Bianca says the need to get an assessment remains crucial because serious head injuries are not immediately apparent, such as "a broken bone in the skull, a bruised brain or a bleed in or around the brain."

After an examination, a doctor will be able to rule out serious injuries like fractures, brain bleeds or brain bruises, but if worrying symptoms persist, a final diagnosis of concussion will be made.


Also see: A bump to the head

Has your child spent time in the emergency room after a head injury? What was your experience like? Share your story with us, and we could publish your letter. Anonymous contributions are welcome.


Signs that your child may have a concussion

If your child has recently sustained an injury to the head and you’re not quite sure if it was serious enough to merit medical attention, here are the symptoms of a concussion, provided by Dr Bianca. 

Note: These symptoms may not always be obvious immediately after an injury and may take anywhere from a few hours and even (but seldomly) a few days to surface. 

Symptoms of a concussion fit into four main categories:

Thinking and remembering

  • Not thinking clearly
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Not being able to remember new information

Physical 

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fuzzy or blurry vision
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Balance problems
  • Feeling tired or having no energy

Emotions and mood 

  • Easily upset or angered
  • Sadness 
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • More emotional in general 

Sleep 

  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Sleeping less than usual
  • Having a hard time falling asleep

If your child is younger than 6 months or has fallen from a height, a medical assessment is non-negotiable.

Signs of possible concussion in very small children include: 

  • Crying more than usual
  • Headache that does not go away
  • Changes in the way they play or behave
  • Changes in the way they nurse, eat or sleep
  • Being upset easily or having more temper tantrums
  • Lack of interest in their usual activities or favourite toys
  • Loss of new skills, such as toilet training
  • Loss of balance and trouble walking
  • Inability to pay attention


Also see: Head injuries

Managing a head injury after diagnoses

Dr Bianca advises that while a concussion is not the most serious of head traumas, proper home care (including much-needed rest) is vital in ensuring that other more serious conditions aren’t developed at a later stage.

"Sometimes a seemingly small injury can result in prolonged concussion symptoms, especially if the patient does not rest as advised. This is because the brain is more sensitive to stimulation after a concussion," explains Dr Bianca.

Here are her tips for taking care of your child after sustaining a concussion:

  • Get plenty of sleep at night, and rest during the day
  • Only take medicines prescribed by the treating doctor
  • Avoid activities that are physically or mentally demanding (including schoolwork or sport)
  • Avoid TV, computers, video games, cell phones, texting, movies and loud environments

Precautionary steps

Since falling is just another consequence of being a child, it may not be possible to avoid it altogether, however, Dr Bianca advises precautionary steps can be taken. 

Here are a few ways you protect your child from head injury: 

  • Use child car seats and booster seats correctly and ensure that your child is correctly strapped in when travelling.
  • Teach your child bicycle safety and the importance of wearing a helmet.
  • Teach your child how to be safe around streets and cars.
  • Teach your child playground safety to minimise the risk of them falling from heights.

Chat back:

Has your child spent time in the emergency room after a head injury? What was your experience like? Share your story with us, and we could publish your letter. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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