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What to do if you hit your head

While not all bumps to the head are life-threatening, it’s essential to know the warning signs of a traumatic brain injury if you do hit your head. In 2020, more than 64,000 people died from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of course, not every head injury will cause a TBI, but it’s still essential to know when to seek treatment if you hit your head.

When to go to the emergency department if you hit your head

Gina Talbot, M.D., a Piedmont internal medicine physician, says you should call 911 or visit your nearest emergency department if you experience any of the following symptoms after hitting your head:

  • Vomiting

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Seizure activity

  • Any sign of a skull fracture, such as two black eyes or a depression in the skull

“You should go to the emergency department if you have any of these symptoms after hitting your head,” says Dr. Talbot. “You should also go to the emergency department if you injure your head and are over age 65 or are on blood thinners, including aspirin.”

When to go to urgent care for a head injury

If you bump your head—such as on the kitchen cabinet while unloading groceries—and only have a slight headache, it’s likely not a sign of a serious problem, says Dr. Talbot. However, you could have a concussion if you experience a headache accompanied by:

  • Nausea

  • Blurred vision

  • Dizziness

  • Unusual fatigue

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Trouble falling asleep

“These can be symptoms of a concussion,” says Dr. Talbot. “If you have any of these signs, call your primary care provider or visit an urgent care center within 24 to 48 hours.”

If you’ve had a concussion in the past and you hit your head again, this places you at risk for subsequent injury, including recurrent concussion, she adds.

How to reduce your risk of a serious head injury

Here are some ways to reduce your chances of a serious head injury:

  • Talk to your doctor if you take aspirin. “There’s a recent recommendation by the United States Preventive Services Task Force that says patients over age 60 shouldn’t be on aspirin for the prevention of a first heart attack,” says Dr. Talbot. “If you haven’t had a heart attack or stroke and are over age 60, it’s no longer recommended to take aspirin as a preventive measure. Aspirin can increase your risk of bleeding, so ask your doctor if it’s still safe for you.”

  • Prevent falls. People who are over age 65 should take measures to prevent falls since that’s a major cause of head injuries in this age group, she says. Exercising, especially practicing tai chi, wearing supportive shoes with thin, hard soles, getting regular eye exams, keeping stairways well-lit, minimizing alcohol consumption and installing grab bars in the shower and near the toilet can help reduce your risk of falling.

  • Wear helmet. When biking, skateboarding and playing sports, wear a well-fitting helmet to reduce your risk of serious injury.  

  • Wear a seatbelt. Wearing a seatbelt when riding in or driving a motor vehicle can be lifesaving.

If you have questions about your risk of a head injury, talk to your primary care provider. Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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