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What is a Traumatic Head Injury?

By Madeleine A.
Updated May 17, 2024
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A traumatic head injury refers to trauma or injury to any part of the skull, scalp, or brain. Typically, a traumatic head injury can range from mild to catastrophic brain injuries. The traumatic head injury generally can either be open or closed. An open head injury is also called a penetrating injury. Usually, an open head injury occurs when an individual is hit in the head with something that shatters the skull and causes entry into the brain. An example of this would be going through a windshield or sustaining a gunshot wound.

Generally, a closed traumatic head injury refers to getting a sharp blow or strike to the head from hitting an object. This differs from an open head injury because it does not break or shatter the skull. Both open and closed head injuries can cause a concussion. A concussion refers to the shaking of the brain, usually due to injury. Another less serious traumatic brain injury is called a contusion. This refers to a bruise on the brain.

Fortunately, out of the millions of head injuries that occur annually, most are not life threatening. The skull offers substantial protection to the brain, and although the head injury may cause severe pain, the brain usually remains protected and undamaged. Common causes of traumatic head injury include falls, motor vehicle accidents and sports injuries. Although many head injuries are not severe, certain cases of traumatic head injury may cause paralysis, seizure or coma.

Typical treatments for traumatic head injury begin with monitoring the patient closely. The head injury patient should be watched for excessive drowsiness, abnormal behavior, and increase in headache or neck pain. In addition, the patient should be monitored for vomiting and loss of consciousness. If the patient exhibits these symptoms, he needs emergency medical intervention. If vomiting occurs before emergency help arrives, the patient should be turned on his side to prevent aspiration of vomitus material into the lungs.

Occasionally a traumatic head injury may produce a skull fracture. If the patient sustains a skull fracture, direct pressure should never be applied to the site. In addition, removal of any material or debris from the wounded area should never be done. By manipulating the wound, the foreign objects may further penetrate the brain. In the case of a skull fracture, medical help should be sought. In less serious head injuries without symptoms, the patient may obtain relief with an over-the-counter pain reliever.

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