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How To Deal With Serious Head Injuries

A blow to the head can cause permanent damage to the brain and neck. Follow these steps to learn what to do in case of a head injury.


  • Step 1: If the victim vomits, carefully roll the entire body to one side—keeping the head and neck in line with the body—to avert choking.
  • TIP: Do not remove any blood-soaked dressings—apply a clean cloth or pad on top of the old one.
  • Step 2: Apply a clean cloth or gauze pad to the wound if it's bleeding. If you suspect the skull might have been fractured, simply cover the wound; if the wound is superficial, apply pressure to the injured site to stop the bleeding.
  • Step 3: If the injury swells—and it is safe to apply light pressure—apply an ice pack. Be careful to ice in increments no longer than 20 minutes and allow at least 45 minutes between applications.
  • TIP: Never apply an ice pack directly to the skin—wrap the pack in something like a damp cloth or towel to prevent frostbite.
  • FACT: Injuries resulting from bicycling without a helmet cost the U.S. health care system a total of around $81 million every year.
  • Step 4: When medical assistance arrives, give a detailed account of what happened and follow any instructions given by the emergency technicians or doctors.
  • Step 5: Do not remove any object protruding from the wound. If the injury is bleeding, put on a pair of disposable gloves—if they are available—to prevent the spreading of disease.
  • TIP: Do not move the victim of a serious head injury unless he is in further immediate danger or it's absolutely necessary.
  • Step 6: If the victim can speak, try to learn what happened; if he cannot tell you, glean what you can from the scene or ask a witness.
  • Step 7: Call 911 and seek emergency medical assistance immediately.
  • TIP: Do not shake a person who seems dazed and confused.
  • Step 8: If able, have the victim lie on his back, keeping still, with his head and shoulders slightly elevated.
  • Step 9: If the person is unconscious but breathing normally, assume the spine is injured. Keep the head and neck still—using your hands to stabilize the head, if necessary—and keep the head in line with the spine.
  • Step 10: Confirm that the victim is breathing normally. If not, begin CPR.
  • : In addition to visible symptoms, the following may indicate a serious head injury: confusion; discoloration beneath the eyes and behind the ears; blurred vision; vomiting; loss of balance; irritability and initial improvement followed by a worsening condition.

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