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Advice if your child suffers a head injury

A head injury is any form of knock or bang to the head; most are not serious and do not need hospital treatment.

When to seek medical advice

Call 999 if your child has hit their head and has:

  • been knocked out and has not woken up
  • difficulty staying awake or keeping their eyes open
  • a fit (seizure)
  • problems with their vision
  • clear fluid coming from their ears or nose
  • bleeding from their ears or bruising behind their ears
  • numbness or weakness in part of their body
  • problems with walking, balance, understanding, speaking or writing
  • hit their head in a serious accident, such as a car crash

Take your child to the nearest accident and emergency department (A&E) if they have suffered a head injury and have:

  • been knocked out but have now woken up
  • been vomiting since the injury
  • a headache that does not go away with painkillers
  • a change in behaviour, like being more irritable, being easily distracted or having no interest in the outside world – this is a particularly common sign in children under the age of five
  • a large bruise or wound to the head or face
  • loss of power in part of the body, such as weakness in an arm or leg
  • confusion
  • a blood clotting disorder (like haemophilia) or take blood-thinners (like warfarin)
  • had brain surgery in the past

Contact your GP or 111 service for non-urgent advice if:

  • your child’s symptoms last more than 2 weeks
  • you are not sure if it’s safe for your child to return to nursery or pre-school

Upset toddler

Treating minor head injuries at home

To treat your child’s minor head injury at home, you should:

  • hold an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas in a tea towel) to the injury regularly for short periods in the first few days to bring down any swelling
  • encourage the child to rest – you and your child do not need to stay awake if you are tired
  • offer paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve pain or a headache – do not use aspirin as it could cause the injury to bleed
  • make sure an adult stays with the  child for at least the first 24 hours
  • avoid sending the child to nursery or pre-school school until they are feeling better
  • children should avoid rough play for a few days

It’s normal to have symptoms such as a slight headache, or feeling sick or dazed, for up to 2 weeks.

This video was not produced by Health for Under 5s and may contain adverts.

Accident Prevention

Safety should be considered in the home, in the car and when out and about, but it isn’t always easy to recognise what is dangerous. Children develop quickly and they can catch parents off-guard.  The Child Accident Prevention Trust has a Parent’s Pack which is free to download and has some good advice.

Useful links

Page last reviewed: 16-09-2020

Next review due: 16-09-2023