Head injury

  • Most head injuries are not serious and simply cause a bump or a bruise to the head or face
  • If your child’s head is bleeding, apply pressure for 5-10 minutes. If it continues to bleed, they may need to have it glued (stitches are very rarely required). This can usually be done in a minor injuries unit, an urgent treatment centre or a walk in centre. Some GPs also assess and treat minor injuries
  • A significant head injury can result in concussion. A child or young person does not have to have been unconscious, or “knocked out” for concussion to occur. Common symptoms of concussion include headache, fatigue, poor sleep and difficulty concentrating. 

Operation Ouch - Head Injury

When should you worry?

If your child has had any of the following in the 48 hours following their head injury:

  • The head injury was high impact for example: 

  • A road traffic accident 

  • Fall from a height of more than 1 metre (more than the child’s own height, or more than 5 stairs) 

  • A bruise, swelling or cut more than 5cm on the head 

  • Vomits 3 times or more (at least 10 minutes between each vomit) 

  • Behaves oddly, becomes confused or unaware of their surroundings 

  • Loses consciousness, becomes drowsy or difficult to wake 

  • Has a convulsion or fit (uncontrolled jerking, twitching movements) 

  • Has difficulty speaking or understanding what you are saying 

  • Has weakness in their arms and legs or starts losing their balance 

  • Has new problems with their eyesight 

  • Has clear fluid coming out of their nose or ears 

  • Bruising around their eyes or behind their ears 

  • Does not wake for feeds, is irritable or cries constantly and cannot be soothed 

  • Has memory loss of events before or after the injury 

  • Takes blood thinners or has a bleeding or clotting disorder 

You need urgent help

Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency (A&E) Department or phone 999

If your child has had any of the following in the 48 hours following their head injury: 

  • Has a headache that doesn’t go away or gets worse (despite painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen)  

You need to contact a doctor or nurse today

Please call your GP surgery, attend your nearest Minor injuries unit or contact NHS 111 - Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111. (111 online does not currently take questions about children aged under 5, so if your child is 4 or younger, please call 111).

If symptoms persist for 4 hours or more and you have not been able to speak to either a member of staff from your GP practice or to NHS 111 staff, recheck that your child has not developed any red features.

If none of the above features are present:

  • Is alert and interacts with you 

  • Vomits, but only up to twice 

  • Experiences mild headaches, struggles to concentrate, lacks appetite or has problems sleeping. If you are very concerned about these symptoms or they go on for more than 2 weeks, make an appointment to see your GP 

  • Watch them closely for any change and look out for any red or amber symptoms 

  • Additional advice is also available for families for help cope with crying in otherwise well babies 

  • If your child has a long term condition or disability and you are worried please contact your regular team or follow any plans that they have given you. 

Self care

Continue providing your child’s care at home. If you are still concerned about your child, call NHS 111 – dial 111

What should you do immediately?

  • In general, if your child cries immediately after a head injury and returns to their normal self in a short time, they can be managed at home

  • Hold an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas in a tea towel) to the area regularly for short periods to bring down any swelling  

  • You should observe them closely checking that they are responding normally to you

  • You should:  

    • Make sure you or another adult stays with your child for at least the first 24 hours after a head injury 

    • You do not need to keep your child awake as it may make them irritable and bad tempered 

    • Allow your child to sleep as normal. We would encourage you to check on them a couple of times overnight to check: 

      • Do they appear to be breathing normally? 

      • Are they sleeping in a normal posture? 

      • Do they make the expected response when you rouse them gently? (E.g. pulling up sheets, cuddling teddy-bear) 

      • If you cannot satisfy yourself that your child is sleeping normally, then wake them fully to check

      • Keep a regular sleep routine going to bed and waking at the same time each day 

What should you do in the first few days? 

  • For the first couple of days after a bump to the head it is normal for your child to:  

    • Have a mild headache 

    • Feel sick and not want to eat 

    • Have difficulty concentrating 

    • Feel more tired than usual  

  • Encourage them to drink plenty of clear fluids and try a little food 

  • Allow them to play as normal but encourage quiet play and avoid strenuous activity until their symptoms have settled 

  • Avoid loud noise, TV and computer games 

  • Increase activity as symptoms improve at a manageable pace 

  • Give them paracetamol and, or ibuprofen if they are in pain 

Return to normal activities 

Most children only need 24 to 48 hours of rest before they are able to return to light day to day activities.

They can return to school once they are symptom free but may need to start gradually with regular breaks.

Avoid rough play and contact sports for 3 weeks.

Concussion following a head injury 

Symptoms of concussion include mild headache, feeling sick (without vomiting), dizziness, bad temper, problems concentrating, difficulty remembering things, tiredness, lack of appetite or problems sleeping. This can last for a few days, weeks or even months. Some symptoms resolve quickly whilst others may take a little longer. 

Concussion can happen after a mild head injury, even if they haven’t been “knocked out”. 

9 out of 10 children with concussion recover fully. Some can experience long term effects, especially if they return to sporting activities too quickly. It is really important that your child has a gradual return to normal activities. 

It is best to avoid computer games, sporting activities and excessive exercise until all symptoms have improved. 

If you are very concerned about these symptoms or they last longer than 2 months, you should seek medical advice from your doctor. 

Here is a leaflet on returning to normal activities after concussion. 

Return to sport 

Repeated head injury during recovery from concussion can cause long term damage to a child’s brain. 

Expect your child to stay off sport until at least 2 weeks after symptoms have fully resolved.  

Speak to your child’s school and sports club about a gradual return to full activity. 

Further information on return to sport: 



How long will your child’s symptoms last?

Your child is likely to return to normal within a few hours of a minor head injury. 

In the few days following a more significant head injury, your child may experience mild headaches, might be irritable, may struggle to concentrate, may lack appetite and may have problems sleeping. If these symptoms go on for more than 2 weeks, make an appointment to see your GP. 

For more information: 

Visit The Children's Trust website. They are the UK's leading charity for children with brain injury. They deliver rehabilitation, education and community services through skilled teams who work with children and young people, and their families children’s brain injury trust links.

Where should you seek help?

For wear and tear, minor trips and everything in between


You can treat your child's very minor illnesses and injuries at home.

Some illnesses can be treated in your own home with support and advice from the services listed when required, using the recommended medicines and getting plenty of rest.

Sound advice

Children can recover from illness quickly but also can become more poorly quickly; it is important to seek further advice if a child's condition gets worse.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Pharmacists are experts in many aspects of healthcare and can offer advice on a wide range of long-term conditions and common illnesses such as coughs, colds and stomach upsets. You don’t need an appointment and many have private consultation areas, so they are a good first port of call. Your pharmacist will say if you need further medical attention.

Sound advice

  • Visit a pharmacy if your child is ill, but does not need to see a GP
  • Remember that if your child's condition gets worse, you should seek further medical advice immediately
  • Help your child to understand - watch this video with them about going to the pharmacy

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Health visitors are nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness through the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.

Health Visitors can also make referrals for you to other health professionals for example hearing or vision concerns or to the Community Paediatricians or to the child and adolescent mental health services.

Contact them by phoning your Health Visitor Team or local Children’s Centre.

Sound advice

Health visitors also provide advice, support and guidance in caring for your child, including:

  • Breastfeeding, weaning and healthy eating
  • Exercise, hygiene and safety
  • Your child’s growth and development
  • Emotional health and wellbeing, including postnatal depression
  • Safety in the home
  • Stopping smoking
  • Contraception and sexual health
  • Sleep and behaviour management (including temper tantrums!)
  • Toilet training
  • Minor illnesses

For more information watch the video: What does a health visitor do?

School nurses care for children and young people, aged 5-19, and their families, to ensure their health needs are supported within their school and community. They work closely with education staff and other agencies to support parents, carers and the children and young people, with physical and or emotional health needs.

Contacting the School Nurse

Primary and secondary schools have an allocated school nurse – telephone your child’s school to ask for the contact details of your named school nurse.

There is also a specialist nurse who works with families who choose to educate their children at home.

Sound Advice

Before your child starts school your health visitor will meet with the school nursing team to transfer their care to the school nursing service. The school nursing team consists of a school nursing lead, specialist public health practitioners and school health staff nurses.

They all have a role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing, by:

  • encouraging healthier lifestyles
  • offering immunisations
  • giving information, advice and support to children, young people and their families
  • supporting children with complex health needs

Each member of the team has links with many other professionals who also work with children including community paediatricians, child and adolescent mental health teams, health visitors and speech and language therapists. The school health nursing service also forms part of the multi-agency services for children, young people and families where there are child protection or safeguarding issues.

GPs assess, treat and manage a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical procedures. Your GP will arrange a referral to a hospital specialist should you need it.

Sound advice

You have a choice of service:

  • Doctors or GPs can treat many illnesses that do not warrant a visit to A&E
  • Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about visiting the GP or going to a walk in centre

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, you can call 111 or use 111 online.

Please note that 111 online is for people aged 5 and over. Call 111 if you need help for a child under 5.

An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.

Sound advice

Use NHS 111 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

A&E departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, suspected heart attacks, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding that cannot be stopped. If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.

Sound advice

  • Many visits to A&E and calls to 999 could be resolved by any other NHS services
  • If your child's condition is not critical, choose another service to get them the best possible treatment
  • Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about going to A&E or riding in an ambulance
Survey for parents and carers - what was the outcome of you looking at this page?