Headache After Hitting Head

It’s not unusual to get a headache after hitting your head, and the headache can come and go as you go through a healing process typically lasting up to 4 weeks. As long as the headaches are diminishing, it’s not likely that they represent a serious problem. However, any persistent headache that progressively worsens after the injury may indicate a more severe injury. In this case, you may need immediate medical attention because there may be internal swelling or bleeding.

How to Manage the Headache After Hitting Head

If the headache is not serious, the only treatment required is some rest and over-the-counter pain medication. Seek professional advice if you are concerned with the headache.

  • Resting for the first 24 hours after the injury to give your body some time to begin the healing process. You’ll also want to avoid any activities that risk further blows to the head until you have completely healed.
  • Using an ice pack for reducing the pain and swelling associated with the injury, and to prevent any further tissue damage. When using an ice pack, place the ice in a plastic bag, wrap it with a towel and apply the cold pack on the injury for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as needed.
  • Purchase acetaminophen at your local pharmacy to help control the pain, and follow the direction on the label. It’s important to remember that too much acetaminophen can cause liver damage.
  • Ibuprofen purchased from your pharmacy can also help control any pain and swelling you may have. However, for certain people it may also cause stomach bleeding, kidney problems, and if you’re using a blood thinning medication, be sure to ask your doctor if ibuprofen is safe for you to take.
  • Seek the help of family or friends to have them check up on you from time to time and to wake you up as directed when you’re sleeping to make sure you are still thinking clearly.

When to See a Doctor

When should you worry if you get a headache after hitting head on something hard? You’ll need to seek emergency help if your headaches become persistent, gets worse, or if you experience:

  • A period of unconsciousness
  • Problems staying alert or becoming sleepy several hours after injury
  • A clear fluid draining from your nose or ears (it’s possible that this may be cerebrospinal fluid from around the brain.) 
  • Bleeding from your ear(s)
  • Bruising behind your ear(s)
  • A fractured or penetrating skull injury
  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
  • Trouble understanding what others are saying
  • Difficulty reading or writing
  • Difficulty with walking or balancing
  • A loss of motor skills, or numbness and weakness in your arms or legs
  • Blurry vision, or double vision
  • Sudden and uncontrollable seizures
  • Trouble remembering what happened or amnesia (memory loss)
  • Nausea and vomiting after the injury
  • Overall weakness
  • Unusual behaviour and irritability
  • Abnormal breathing patterns

Note: If you are taking medications which thin the blood, have a history of bleeding, or have previously had brain surgery, seek medical attention for the injury to be sure no serious damage has occurred.

How to Tell If You Have a Brain Injury

1.   Glasgow Coma Scale

A doctor or other emergency medical personnel use the Glasgow coma scale to initially assess the severity of headache after hitting head. Checking the person's ability to move their eyes and limbs, follow directions, and observing the coherence of speech can provide important clues as to how serious the injury may be. Abilities are scored numerically on the Glasgow Coma Scale, and the higher the score, the less severe the injuries.

Glasgow Coma Scale
Eyes Opening  
Spontaneous 4
To Loud Voice 3
To Pain 2
None 1
Verbal Response  
Oriented 5
Confused, Disoriented 4
Inappropriate Words 3
Incomprehensible Words 2
None 1
Motor Response  
Obeys Command 6
Localizes Pain 5
Withdraws from Pain 4
Abnormal Flexion Posturing 3
Extensor Posturing 2
None 1

2.   Information About the Injury and Symptoms

The doctor asks for the following information to determine the severity of injury.

  • The cause of the injury
  • The amount of force that caused the injury
  • Whether or not the person lost consciousness
  • The length of time of losing consciousness
  • Whether there are any changes in the person's alertness, speech, or coordination, and if there are any other visible signs of injury
  • Where on the head or other parts of the body the person was injured

3.   Imaging Test and Intracranial Pressure Monitor

When your injury is serious enough to send you to the hospital, doctors may order imaging tests, and monitoring such as:

  • Computerized tomography (CT): CT imagery combines a series of X-rays to create a cross sectional, detailed view of the brain. A CT scan can quickly identify fractures and reveal evidence of hemorrhaging (bleeding) in the brain, blood clots, brain tissue swelling, and contusions (bruising).
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI is a medical imaging technique that uses powerful radio waves, magnets and a computer to create a detailed picture of the brain. This test is typically used after the person's condition has been stabilized.
  • Intracranial pressure monitor: A traumatic brain injury can cause tissue swelling and increase pressure on the brain inside the skull causing additional damage to the brain. Doctors may insert a catheter through a hole drilled in the skull to monitor this pressure.

How to Prevent Hitting Your Head

The best way to control headache after hitting head is to prevent hitting your head in the first place. Remember the following tips in your daily life.

  • When participating in contact sports or other activities such as roller-skating, riding a bike, or skiing, wear protective gear including a helmet.
  • Wear a seat belt at all times, and adjust the headrest to protect your head. Besides the accidents, wearing seat belts also protect your head in other circumstances, such as a sudden stop.
  • Avoid using throw rugs, because they are notoriously dangerous when put on a smooth surface. Stepping on them at the wrong angle can send you head over heels.
  • Keep stairways and hallways well lit, and install adequate lighting throughout your home. Make sure there are handrails on all indoor and outdoor stairways.
  • Make the bathroom safe by using a rubber mat in the bathtub and remember to always clean up excess water after showering to prevent slips and falls.
  • Clean up water spills as soon as possible, especially around doorways, the laundry room, and kitchen floors.
  • Keep pathways cleared. Make sure your indoor walkways are free of debris and clutter. Be prepared for winter conditions by clearing snow from walkways and stairs.
  • Keep doors closed. Leaving a cabinet or oven door open may result in an accidental injury.
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