Head injury first aid

Any head injury can be serious, although most are mild. Concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury. It is important to remember that signs of a head injury can show up 24 to 48 hours after the injury.

Seek immediate medical advice

How to tell if someone has a head injury

If someone has had a knock to their head, they may have obvious signs of an injury to their head or face such as bleeding and bruising. Other signs of a head injury include:

  • feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • feeling sick (nausea) or throwing up (vomiting)
  • not being able to remember what happened or recent events
  • having a headache, which can be severe
  • being confused
  • leaking blood or watery fluid from their ears or nose
  • being unconscious or semi-conscious
  • blurred or double vision.

Helping someone who has a head injury

  • Sit the person down.
  • Apply a cold cloth or ice wrapped in a cloth to the site of their injury.
  • If they have a bleeding wound, apply direct firm pressure to the wound to stem the bleeding. Do not apply pressure if you suspect a skull fracture.
  • Check the person's airway and breathing. If they become unconscious, but are breathing, there are ways to help them. 

Helping someone who is unconscious but breathing — HealthInfo (external link)

Getting medical help

It is best to get the person checked by a doctor after any head injury. This is especially important if they have a severe headache, had any loss of consciousness or have a concussion.

See a doctor urgently if their symptoms get worse or if they develop new symptoms.

ACC has more advice about how to recognise concussion on the sports field.

Concussion — ACC SportSmart (external link)

Also follow the instructions in the ACC leaflet on caring for your child immediately after a head injury.

Caring for your child after their head injury (PDF, 2.6 MB) — ACC (external link)

Clinical review

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

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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