Let’s say your child is playing on a swing at school, falls off and hits his or her head on the ground, causing a bruise or bump to form. As a parent, should you be concerned that a serious child brain injury has occurred?
According to a recently published study, if your child’s only sign or symptom after the accident is a headache, there is actually a fairly low risk that the child has suffered a “clinically important” traumatic brain injury (ciTBI), or a brain injury that is likely to require hospitalization or surgery.
However, out of an abundance of caution, you should still have your child examined by a doctor after one of these “bumps on the head.” You should also keep a close watch for signs and symptoms of TBI in the weeks that follow.
Study Finds Low Risk of TBI in Children with Isolated Headaches
Researchers from New York’s Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital conducted the study, which was reported February 2 in the online edition of the journal, Pediatrics.
The study analyzed data from a prospective observational study of children between ages 2 and 18 with “minor blunt head trauma,” or head trauma registering a score of 14 or 15 on the 15-point Glasgow Coma Scale.
As Reuters Health describes, the children were placed into two groups: Those with isolated headaches and those with signs and symptoms in addition to a headache.
Out of 2,462 children who suffered only isolated headaches, none were found to have ciTBI. In contrast, out of 10,105 children with more than an isolated headache, 162 had ciTBI (1.6 percent).
In other words, the risk of serious brain injury is 1.6 percent higher when a child presents signs and symptoms that go beyond an isolated headache.
Additionally, commuted tomography (CT) scans identified ciTBI in only three out of 456 children with isolated headaches (0.7 percent). Out of a group of 6,089 children with additional signs and symptoms, CT scans revealed ciTBI in 271 (4.5 percent). In other words, the risk of ciTBI was 3.8 percent higher.
This research follows a study published online in September 2014 by JAMA Pediatrics that analyzed children with isolated loss of consciousness after suffering mild blunt head trauma. The researchers in that study found there was a “very low risk for ciTBI” among children with that lone symptom and concluded that they “do not routinely require” CT scan evaluations.
How Should Parents React to Head Injuries?
While the these studies, taken together, may suggest that parents have little to worry about if a child merely bumps his or her head and suffers only an isolated headache or loss of consciousness, it is still important to take these injuries seriously.
As the Brain Injury Association of America notes, “62,000 children sustain brain injuries [each year] requiring hospitalization as a result of motor vehicle crashes, falls, sports injuries, physical abuse and other causes.”
Pay attention to signs and symptoms of TBI that a child may develop in addition to headaches or loss of consciousness, which the Children’s Health Center of Atlanta describes as:
- Fluid draining from the ears or nose
- Confused or dazed looks
- Inability to see or speak clearly
- Repeated vomiting
- Severe neck pain
- Progressive drowsiness
- Weakness in the arms or legs
- Inability to remember people or places.
If your child has suffered an apparent head injury, don’t do the evaluation yourself. Instead, take your child to see a doctor as soon as possible. Allow the doctor to do an examination and to consult with you on whether to order additional testing such as a CT scan or X-ray.