Head injuries in adults

Most head injuries are minor and have no long-term effects. Some head injuries result in temporary effects known as concussion. These temporary effects can last anywhere from hours to weeks.

Symptoms of head injuries

Serious symptoms needing urgent medical attention include:

  • an increasingly severe headache
  • unusual behaviour
  • repeated vomiting (throwing up)
  • being very sleepy or difficult to wake
  • having a fit (jerking movements)
  • slurred speech
  • blurred or double vision
  • strange feelings or a loss of movement down one side of your body.

Possible concussion symptoms include:

  • recurring headaches
  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • difficulty with memory and concentration
  • disrupted sleep and mood
  • feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • feeling off balance like being on a rocking boat.
Rarely, you can be well after a head injury but suddenly get worse some hours later due to bleeding inside your skull. Have someone with you for the first 24 hours so they can call for help if this happens.

Treating head injuries

Rest is the most important part of recovery from a head injury. For the first 2 to 3 days, rest your brain. This should include avoiding screens, loud music and noisy environments as well as resting your body. Getting back to normal activities too soon can make your symptoms worse and delay your full recovery.

Simple pain relief like paracetamol can help with headaches.

Avoid alcohol and other drugs.

After 3 days, gradually return to your usual activities. If you are going to work or school, start with half days and build up to full days.

Avoid hard physical activity including contact sports for at least 3 weeks.

Before returning to sport, check if you have to follow a sport-specific stand down plan.

If you still have symptoms after 2 weeks, see your healthcare provider. You may need to see a specialist concussion service.

Related websites

Dr Mike Evans — YouTube

An entertaining and informative video about what concussion is and how it is treated.

ACC SportSmart

The signs of concussion and what to do if someone is concussed on a sports field.

Brain Injury New Zealand

Downloadable resources and helpful links for those living with brain injury.

Health New Zealand

This 16-page booklet has a lot of information about concussion, including what happens in a concussion, what symptoms you can expect and what you can do to help yourself recover.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

Last updated: