Minor head injury / lump on head

Read NHS information about minor head injuries, including how many people have head injuries each year, how they are treated, possible complications and how to avoid serious head injury.

Information written and reviewed by Certified Doctors.

Contents

Key Information

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What should I do?

If you think you have this condition, you may not need to see a doctor.

How is it diagnosed?

A minor head injury can be diagnosed after you have experienced a knock, bump or a blow to your head. You may be experiencing a mild headache and mild skin redness.

What is the treatment?

The symptoms of a minor head injury usually resolve by themselves within 24 hours.

Painkillers can be used if you are experiencing a headache.

When to worry?

If you have any of the following symptoms, please see a doctor immediately:

  • fits
  • double vision
  • repeated vomiting
  • memory loss
  • blood or clear fluid coming out of your nose or ears
  • unconsciousness
  • severe headache
  • symptoms not resolving within 24 hours.

Introduction

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Minor head injuries are common in people of all ages and should not result in any permanent damage.

The symptoms of a minor head injury are usually mild and short lived. Symptoms may include:

  • a bump or bruise on the head
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • dizziness

However, with any head injury it is important to make sure that there are no symptoms of a severe head injury.

If there are serious symptoms go to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your local hospital straight away or call for an ambulance. This is particularly important if you lose consciousness, even if it's only for a short period of time.

How common are head injuries?

The most common causes of head injuries are falls, assaults and road traffic accidents. Children may be more likely to have a minor head injury because they have high energy levels and little sense of danger.

Read more information about causes of minor head injuries.

Treating a minor head injury

See your doctor if you’re concerned about a minor head injury.

Otherwise, try not to be alone for the first 48 hours after the injury or, if your child has a minor head injury, continue to monitor them for any new symptoms. It is also important to rest and avoid aggravating the injury with stressful situations or contact sports until you or your child are fully recovered.

Mild headaches can be treated with painkillers such as paracetamol (always read the manufacturer’s instructions and never give aspirin to children under 16 years of age).

Read more information about treating a minor head injury.

Complications

Serious complications from a minor head injury are rare.

Possible complications include long-term headaches, memory loss or difficulty concentrating. Some people may experience long-term symptoms after a minor head injury that involves concussion, known as post-concussional syndrome (PCS).

Preventing a minor head injury

Although it can be difficult to predict or avoid a head injury, there are some steps you can take to help reduce the risk of more serious injury.

These include:

  • wearing a safety helmet when cycling
  • reducing hazards in the home that may cause a fall
  • ‘childproofing’ your home
  • using the correct safety equipment for work, sport and DIY

Read more information about preventing a minor head injury.

Symptoms

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Minor head injuries often cause a bump or bruise. As long as the person is conscious (awake), with no deep cuts, there is unlikely to have been any damage to the brain.

Other symptoms of a minor head injury may include:

  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • mild headache
  • tender bruising or mild swelling of the scalp
  • mild dizziness

If you or your child experience these mild symptoms after a knock, bump or blow to the head, you do not require any specific treatment.

Close observation

If your child has sustained a head injury, observe them closely for 48 hours to monitor whether their symptoms change or worsen. If you have sustained a head injury, ask a friend or family member to stay with you for the following 48 hours to keep an eye on you.

If your child has a minor head injury, they may cry or be distressed. This is normal and, with attention and reassurance, most children will settle down. However, seek medical assistance if your child continues to be distressed.

Serious symptoms

If, following a knock to the head, you notice any of the symptoms below in either you or your child, seek immediate medical assistance:

  • unconsciousness (either very briefly or for a longer period of time)
  • difficulty staying awake or still being sleepy several hours after the injury
  • having a seizure or fit (when your body suddenly moves uncontrollably)
  • difficulty speaking, such as slurred speech
  • vision problems or double vision
  • difficulty understanding what people say
  • reading or writing problems
  • balance problems or difficulty walking
  • loss of power in part of the body, such as weakness in an arm or leg
  • amnesia (memory loss), such as not being able to remember what happened before or after the injury
  • clear fluid leaking from the nose or ears (this could be cerebrospinal fluid, which normally surrounds the brain)
  • a black eye (with no other damage around the eye)
  • bleeding from one or both ears
  • new deafness (loss of hearing) in one or both ears
  • bruising behind one or both ears
  • a lasting headache since the injury
  • vomiting since the injury
  • irritability or unusual behaviour
  • visible trauma (damage) to the head, such as an open, bleeding wound

If any of these symptoms are present, particularly a loss of consciousness (even if only for a short period of time), go immediately to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your local hospital or call for an ambulance.

Causes

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Minor head injuries are common in people of all ages and can be caused in many different ways.

The most common causes of a minor head injury are:

  • falls in around 22-43% of cases
  • assaults in around 30-50% of cases
  • road traffic accidents in around 25% of cases

It is also thought that alcohol may be a factor in up to 65% of adult head injuries.

Other causes of minor head injuries in young people and adults include accidents at home, sports-related injuries and industrial accidents (for example, falls while at work).

Some groups appear to be more at risk of a head injury than others. Often:

  • around three-quarters of people with head injuries are male
  • up to one-fifth of people with head injuries are 65 years of age or over
  • nearly half of people with head injuries are children

Causes in children

Children are very active and often have little sense of danger, which is why most children will have some kind of head injury while they are growing up. Some of the more common ways that children may experience a head injury include falls from:

  • cots
  • windows
  • stairs
  • trees
  • playground equipment

Read more information about accidents to children in the home.

Childhood head injuries may also occur as a result of cycling accidents or road traffic accidents.

Read more information about preventing minor head injuries.

Treatment

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As long as your head injury is minor you don't need to visit your doctor or hospital for treatment. If you have signs of a severe head injury get immediate medical help.

Read a list of the symptoms of a severe head injury to find out when you need urgent medical attention.

If you are concerned about a head injury, see your doctor. Otherwise, follow the advice below.

Advice for adults

If you have a minor head injury:

  • ask someone to stay with you and keep within easy reach of a telephone and medical help for the first 48 hours after the injury
  • have plenty of rest and avoid stressful situations
  • do not drink alcohol
  • do not take sleeping pills, sedatives or tranquillisers (unless they are prescribed by your doctor)
  • do not take aspirin (unless it is prescribed by your doctor)
  • take painkillers, such as paracetamol, if you have a headache (always follow the manufacturer’s instructions)
  • do not play any contact sport, such as football or rugby, for at least three weeks, and speak to your doctor before you start playing again
  • do not return to work, college or school until you have completely recovered and feel ready
  • do not drive a car, motorbike or bicycle or operate machinery until you have completely recovered

Go to a hospital accident and emergency (A&E) department if you:

  • lose consciousness or become confused, for example not knowing where you are
  • have clear fluid leaking from your ear or nose
  • are drowsy (sleepy) when you would usually be awake
  • have problems speaking or understanding other people
  • lose your balance or have difficulty walking
  • lose power in part of the body, for example in an arm or leg
  • develop a new problem with your eyesight
  • have a headache that keeps getting worse
  • have been sick
  • have a seizure (fit), when your body suddenly moves uncontrollably

Advice for children

If your child has a minor head injury:

  • give them painkillers, such as paracetamol, if they have a mild headache (always read the manufacturer’s instructions and never give aspirin to children under 16 years of age)
  • avoid getting them too excited
  • do not have too many visitors
  • do not let them play contact sports, such as football or rugby
  • make sure that they avoid rough play for a few days

Take your child back to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your local hospital if they:

  • are unusually sleepy or you cannot wake them
  • have a headache that is getting worse
  • are unsteady when they walk
  • are repeatedly sick
  • have a seizure (fit)
  • develop a squint or blurred vision, or they start to see double
  • lose consciousness

Go to A&E if your baby has a minor head injury and continues to cry for a long time.

Complications

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If you have sustained a minor head injury, there is a small risk that complications will develop. For a few days after the injury, look out for more serious symptoms.

Read about symptoms of a severe head injury for a list of the symptoms that require urgent medical attention.

Post-concussional syndrome

Some people may experience long-term symptoms after sustaining concussion from a minor head injury. This could be post-concussional syndrome. Symptoms include:

  • having trouble looking after yourself
  • not being able to work
  • a persistent (continuous) headache
  • dizziness
  • feeling weak
  • tinnitus (a perception of noise in one or both ears, or inside the head)
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • trouble sleeping and fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • memory problems
  • problems understanding other people
  • poor concentration

Read more information about post-concussional syndrome (PCS).

See your doctor if you still experience these symptoms a few weeks after sustaining a minor head injury. Your doctor may recommend that you reduce your daily activities to a more manageable level and change your sleeping pattern.

The above symptoms usually clear up in around three months but, if necessary, you may need to be referred for further assessment. This could be with a neurologist, who specialises in problems of the nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves), or a psychiatrist (a mental health specialist).

Getting support

If you experience any complications from your head injury, you may find it useful to talk to someone about it.

You may be able to access:

  • advice about other sources of support
  • help to find local rehabilitation services
  • support and advice if you are experiencing problems

Prevention

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Many head injuries are the result of accidents that are difficult to predict or avoid. However, there are some ways to reduce your risk of a severe head injury.

Safety helmets

Cyclists and motorcyclists can protect their head by wearing a properly fitting safety helmet. British Standard safety helmets are a legal requirement for motorcyclists.

However, it is difficult to know for certain the benefit of cycle helmets. This is because data about road accidents that involve cyclists may not contain all of the relevant information. For example, the data may not explain where exactly the head injury occurred, which makes it difficult to determine whether a helmet might have prevented the injury.

As well as wearing a helmet when cycling, you should also make sure that both you and your children:

  • use lights and wear reflective clothing when cycling in the dark
  • are aware of the dangers of the road and know how to stay safe
  • always follow a Highway Code
  • check that the bike is in good working order

Safety in the home

Following sensible health and safety guidelines can help prevent accidents in the home. Some advice to help keep your home and garden as safe as possible includes:

  • keep stairways tidy so that you do not trip over anything
  • use appropriate safety equipment if you are doing any kind of DIY
  • do not stand on an unstable chair to change a light bulb – use a stepladder
  • clean up any spillages to prevent someone slipping over
  • follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using weedkiller or any other chemical products

Childproofing your home

It is not possible to childproof your home completely. However, you can take steps to keep toddlers and young children safe at home, for example by:

  • checking that windows are lockable and cannot be opened by your child, especially bedroom windows
  • moving furniture, such as beds, sofas and chairs away from windows to prevent your child climbing up and falling out
  • making sure that chemicals, such as cleaning products, are out of your child's reach
  • not leaving hot water unattended, for example a pan of boiling water or a bath
  • fitting safety gates at the top and bottom of the stairs

Read more information about preventing accidents to children in the home.

Safety at work

To reduce the risk of sustaining a head injury at work, always follow any necessary health and safety guidelines. For example, you may have to wear a hard hat and safety shoes when working in potentially hazardous areas.

Only use ladders in a workplace environment for short-term, light work. Any work that requires spending a considerable amount of time at height, or involves heavy lifting, should be carried out on scaffolding or another suitable platform.

Any work that involves going up onto a roof should also be considered high-risk and therefore high standards of safety are essential.

Sport safety

Wear any necessary safety equipment when playing sports, particularly contact sports. Do not play any contact sports after a head injury without first consulting your doctor.

Content supplied by NHS Choices