Head or Brain Injury

What is a head injury?

Head injury is a broad term that describes many different types of conditions — ranging from bumps and bruises to concussions, skull fractures, and serious brain injuries. While some head injuries do cause lasting damage, most kids recover with no long-term problems.

What are common symptoms of a head or brain injury?

The following symptoms may appear right away, or days or weeks after the injury:

  • headache
  • tiredness
  • sensitivity to noise or light
  • irritability or persistent crying
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • problems with balance
  • nausea
  • problems with memory or concentration
  • sleeping more or less than usual
  • restless, agitated, or unusual behavior
  • not wanting to eat or nurse
  • loss of interest in playing

If your child has any of these symptoms after a head injury, call your doctor.

What symptoms need emergency care?

If your child has any of the following symptoms, seek emergency care right away:

  • trouble with balance or walking
  • vomiting or nausea
  • slurred speech
  • extreme tiredness or trouble being awakened
  • seizures or convulsions
  • loss of consciousness (passing out)
  • one pupil (black center of the eye) is larger than the other

Types of head injuries

There are several types of head injuries:

  • Scalp injuries, such as bumps and scrapes: Because the scalp has so many blood vessels, even a small cut can bleed a lot, and a mild knock on the head can leave a scary-looking bump. Thankfully, most of these injuries are just surface wounds and heal within a matter of days.
  • Skull fractures: Skull fractures are breaks in one or more bones in the skull. Most skull fractures heal on their own and don’t require surgery, but children with these injuries may need to be observed in the hospital for a short time.
  • Hemorrhages: Hemorrhages, also called hematomas, occur when there is bleeding in the brain. Depending on where the bleeding occurs, children with these injuries may need surgery.
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs): TBIs occur when a sudden jolt, blow, or bump to the head affects the brain. In some cases, symptoms of TBIs may not appear right away. Concussions are the mildest and most common type of TBI. More severe TBIs can cause permanent brain damage.

What causes head and brain injuries in children?

Nearly any type of trauma can cause a head or brain injury in a child. Some of the most common causes include:

  • falls
  • sports injuries
  • motor vehicle accidents
  • being hit by an object or another person

How we care for head and brain injuries

The Boston Children's Hospital Brain Injury Center provides comprehensive care to children and adolescents with any type of head or brain injury. Learn more about how the center treats brain injuries, from early response and inpatient care to long-term follow-up.