No matter the age of your child, if they have a head injury it can be terrifying.
In older children, head injuries are commonly the result of participating in sports. For example, your child may sustain a mild concussion, a form of traumatic brain injury. Traumatic brain injuries can be classified as mild to severe, depending on the immediate effects.
If your child sustains an injury when they’re older, they may be able to better explain how they’re feeling, which can help raise the chance of a thorough and proper diagnosis.
In young children, including babies and toddlers, head injuries are more often due to falls or bumping into furniture. These injuries may not be as severe, but it’s more challenging to know exactly what a baby or toddler is experiencing since they can’t verbalize it.
The following are things to know about head injuries in children, and particularly babies and toddlers.
The Basics of Head Injuries
A head injury can be external, involving the scalp. These types of injuries can also be internal, meaning they involve blood vessels, the brain, or the skull.
A concussion is a mild head injury that can occur when there’s a direct blow to the head or when the head moves back and forth quickly. A contusion is a bruise, which occurs when skin and soft tissue under it is injured. Skull fractures are a break of the skull bone, and bleeding can happen both on and under the skull.
Injuries in Young Children
Nearly every child will bump their head at some point, particularly as they’re learning to crawl or walk. In young children, most of these injuries are minor and aren’t a cause for concern even though they can be scary for you as a parent.
Head injuries are more frequent in young children than adults. There are a few reasons for this. First, young kids have heads that are larger in relation to their bodies than adults. The second reason is that younger children lack well-developed neck muscles.
Also, children have shorter legs than their bodies in many cases, making their center of gravity closer to their heads.
Babies tend to wobble when they’re learning how to walk, and it’s not the fault of your parenting if they lose their balance and get hurt. Babies also have constant changes in their strength and physical abilities, so they might not understand these changes and how they affect their movement.
If your child is a baby or toddler and does get a head injury, you should make sure they’re not hurt anywhere else. A head injury can be distracting, and you may overlook some other type of injury requiring attention.
What Should You Do?
If your child has a head injury, you should contact your doctor immediately if they’re an infant or loses consciousness, even for a second.
Other warning signs that indicate you should contact your pediatrician include:
- Crying that doesn’t stop
- Complaints of head and neck pain
- Won’t wake up easily
- Difficult to comfort or soothe
- Abnormalities in walking or talking
- Has changes in the size of their pupils
If your child is not an infant, is alert and behaving normally, and doesn’t lose consciousness, you should use a cold pack on the affected area every 20 minutes for a few hours after the injury.
Wrap ice in a washcloth or sock if you use it.
Keep a close eye on your child for the next 24 hours.
Diagnosing and Treating Head Injuries
It’s essential if you believe something isn’t right that you follow your instincts. It’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to head injuries.
If you visit the emergency department or your child’s pediatrician, they’ll likely order a series of tests. These can include X-rays, perhaps a CT scan, or an MRI.
Treating a head injury in a young child depends on how old they are and their medical history. The specifics of the injury are relevant as well.
As a parent, again, it’s important to realize your child will get injured, and sometimes there is nothing you can do.
Proper babyproofing, supervision, and keeping toys and obstructions picked up can reduce the risk of a baby or toddler falling, but it’s not going to eliminate the risk entirely.
If your child does get a head injury of any type and you’re uncomfortable with it or think there could be an issue, contact the doctor right away. Most head injuries in babies and toddlers aren’t serious, but you don’t want to take a chance.