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Health / Safety

A knock on the head? Better watch for trouble signs

June 21, 2010

A common scene on TV and in the movies: With one quick blow to the head, the hero (or villain) knocks out a foe, rendering him or her unconscious for the next half-hour or more.

In real life, though, head injuries account for approximately 250,000 hospital admissions a year, and as many as 50,000 deaths. Auto accidents and sports injuries are responsible for most head trauma, but a simple slip and fall can have the same tragic results.

Watch for these symptoms

When should you call the doctor or go to the hospital? Watch for these symptoms of serious injury:

  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Difficulty walking; loss of coordination
  • Inability to move limbs
  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
  • Excessive drowsiness or fatigue

No need to keep a person awake

There's no need to keep a person awake following a head injury, most doctors say. But if you can't wake a sleeping patient up, or if he or she behaves differently after being awakened, consult with a doctor immediately. In some cases, a physician may recommend that you let the victim sleep but wake him or her frequently and ask some simple questions ("What's your name? What day is it?") to rule out possible injury.

Avoid alcohol for 48 hours

For mild injuries, no treatment is generally needed, but keep an eye on the person to check for any unusual behavior. Over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) is usually the best cure for minor headaches, but stay away from aspirin or ibuprofen, which can increase the risk of bleeding. And patients should avoid alcohol for 48 hours after any head injury.

Source: First Draft, June 2010