“That’s a red flag”: When does a bump on the head need medical attention?

A bump on the head is a common childhood injury, and if your child hasn’t experienced one yet, he soon will.

But when is a bump just a bump – and when should you take your little one to the doctor to be checked out?

Sarah Hunstead, a former paediatric nurse and director of CPR Kids, says it’s not always just about the bump.

“It’s about looking at your child as a whole; so not just focusing on where they’ve been hit but what they are like afterwards,” says Sarah.

Listen to Sarah Hunstead on Feed Play Love:

“We want them to cry”

As horrible as it might sound, crying is a good sign. 

“We want them to cry immediately. That is great,” says Sarah. “If they are sick or injured, the louder they scream, the better I feel.”

If after a fall or bump, and you notice an egg on your child’s head, it’s what happens next that matters.

“Talk to them. Can you calm them down? Can you distract them? Did they all of a sudden want to get straight back into what they’re doing?” These are all good signs that they’re not terribly hurt. 

The avocado test

Now it’s time to see what kind of bump you’re dealing with, and the best way to do this is to touch it.

“Don’t forcefully poke it, but just touch it and have a feel,” Sarah advises. “It should feel relatively firm; it should feel like an avocado that you want in your salad. If it feels like a guacamole avocado, then you need medical attention.”

“A squishy bump can mean that there is a significant amount of bleeding under there,” says Sarah. But if you’ve got a firm bump and a little one who is keen to get back to what they are doing, these are both good signs that everything is fine. 


Read more about kids’ health:


When to seek medical help after a bump on the head

Loss of consciousness

Sarah says if your child has knocked himself out, even just for a few seconds, you should see a doctor. “I’m not talking about stunned and looking around; I mean unconscious like a rugby player knocked out on the field. Seek immediate medical help.”

They aren’t themselves

If your child is usually tearing around the house like a cyclone, but he’s acting differently to normal, “that’s a red flag,” says Sarah.

They’ve had a seizure

“If they have a seizure, obviously you’re calling an ambulance.”

More than one vomit

It’s not uncommon for a child to vomit when they are upset, but it’s the second vomit that’s a worry. “Being upset might make them vomit, but if they’ve had that head injury, and if they vomit again, that’s going to worry me a lot,” Sarah explains. “If they are continuing to vomit, we need medical help.”

A headache that won’t go away

A persistent headache that won’t go away can also be a “red flag.”

Unexpected sleepiness 

“And if they are really sleepy and it’s not their usual bedtime. That’s something that can be a red flag as well.”

mother and child giving comfort crying child

Important for development

While it might be tempting to wrap your little one in cotton wool to avoid injuries like a bump on the head, it’s not going to do them any favours.

“It is so important for their development to do things like run into bean bags and miss and hit the wall or to climb a tree and fall out. They have to do that. They have to take risks because that’s how we become resilient adults,” says Sarah.

“We just need to know what to look for and how to patch them up afterwards.”

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