Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Head injuries

4-minute read

If someone has a head injury, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance if they fall unconscious, even if it’s only for a second, or if they have a fit or seizure. They also need urgent medical attention if there is bleeding that won’t stop, or if there is fluid coming from the nose or ears.

What is a head injury?

A head injury is a knock to the head. It can be mild, resulting in a small lump or bruise. More severe head injuries need to be seen by a doctor.

Head injuries can cause concussion, an injury to the brain when it bangs against the skull.

When should I call an ambulance or go to the emergency department?

You should always keep a close eye on anyone who has had a head injury. Even if the person seems okay, they could develop complications later.

Call an ambulance on triple zero (000) if:

  • the head injury involved high speeds or a fall from more than one metre
  • the person loses consciousness
  • the person seems unwell and vomits more than once after hitting their head
  • there is severe bleeding from the head or face
  • blood or fluid is leaking from the nose or ears
  • the person stops breathing

What should I do while waiting for an ambulance?

If the person is unresponsive, with no signs of breathing or circulation, start CPR.

If they are conscious, keep them still as they may have a spinal injury. Place them in a comfortable position with the head and shoulders slightly raised. If they are wearing a helmet, don’t remove it.

If they are bleeding, put firm pressure on the wound using a sterile gauze or a clean cloth. Don’t do this if you suspect a skull fracture.

What are the symptoms of a head injury?

Symptoms of a minor head injury include a bump or bruise, nausea, a mild headache and dizziness.

Signs of a more serious head injury can start later. Go to the emergency department straight away if the person with the head injury:

  • vomits
  • has trouble seeing, hearing or speaking properly
  • has a headache which is getting worse or won’t go away
  • has difficulty seeing or hearing
  • is confused or acting strangely
  • has difficulty staying awake
  • has pupils which are a different size to each other
  • loses balance or feels dizzy
  • loses memory

You should also see your doctor if:

  • you develop any other new symptoms
  • you become increasingly concerned

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our head injury Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What are the causes of head injuries?

The most common causes of serious head injuries are:

  • car accidents
  • sports injuries
  • accidents at home, such as slips, falls or trips
  • accidents at work, such as falls or being hit on the head
  • assaults
  • falls

How is a head injury treated?

If you are at home, you can treat minor head injuries by sitting quietly and using an icepack. You need someone with you to watch you closely for 24 hours (or 48 hours for children or older people). You can take paracetamol, but not other painkillers.

There is no need to stay awake following a head injury. The injured person needs to be woken gently every 4 hours to make sure they respond normally. If they don’t, they should go to the nearest emergency department.

After a head injury, the most important treatment is complete physical and mental rest. That means not using computer screens, playing video games or working or studying for at least 24 to 48 hours. You should not play sport.

Can head injuries be prevented?

You can prevent head injuries by:

  • always wearing a seatbelt
  • using an appropriate child restraint
  • never drink or drug driving
  • wearing a helmet when you’re on a bicycle, skiing or playing contact sports
  • preventing falls with good lighting and removing obstacles

Are there complications of head injuries?

Most people recover from a head injury after a few days. But you may have some symptoms afterwards, including:

  • mild headaches that won’t go away
  • feeling dizzy or nauseous
  • sensitivity to noise or light
  • balance problems
  • problems concentrating, feeling vague and ‘foggy’
  • memory problems or forgetfulness
  • feeling angry, anxious, stressed or emotional
  • changes to your sleep
  • feeling very tired or having no energy

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Head injuries and concussion - Better Health Channel

There is no specific treatment for mild head injury other than plenty of rest, and not overdoing things.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Concussion

The majority of head injuries are minor and scans are not required. However, it is important that you have someone at home with you for the next 24 hours in case you feel unwell.

Read more on WA Health website

Concussion - Brain Foundation

Concussion (See also Acquired Brain Injury) Description Concussion is used to describe a minor head injury that is not usually life-threatening

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Concussion and mild head injury | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

What is concussion? A concussion is an injury to the brain caused by sudden strong movement of the brain against the skull

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Head Injury

Read more on Queensland Health website

Concussion in children & teenagers | Raising Children Network

A concussion is a mild head injury. If your child has concussion, hell need a short rest. He can start returning to normal activities 24-48 hours later.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Children and head injuries

A head injury or head trauma happens when the brain is swollen, torn, stretched, shaken, compressed, bruised or pierced.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Minor Head Injury in Children

Read more on Queensland Health website

Concussion

Some or all of the following may indicate concussion: • loss of consciousness • persistent headache • faintness, dizziness

Read more on St John Ambulance Australia website

Acquired Brain Injury - Brain Foundation

Acquired Brain Injury (Brain Injury, Head Injury, Traumatic Brain Injury, TBI) Description Brain injury includes a complex group of medical and surgical problems that are caused by trauma to the head

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo