Although they can be scary, head injuries in children are often mild concussions that are usually not very serious. A doctor may order a computed tomography (CT) scan to examine your child's brain after a head injury; however, the test may not be necessary if the injury is minor.
About half of children in emergency rooms with head injuries get CT scans, but one of three of these scans is not necessary.
"CT scans — which take a series of X-rays to create a 3-D picture of the brain — use radiation and can increase the risk of cancer," says Dr. David Hall, a double board-certified internal medicine and pediatrics doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. "In children — and especially infants — the risk is greater because their brains are still developing."
Before ordering a CT scan, your doctor should first examine your child and ask about the injury and symptoms. If your doctor thinks your child has a mild concussion, the CT scan will probably not be helpful because the results are usually normal.
Dr. Hall says CT scans are more effective for detecting more serious head injuries — such as skull fractures or bleeding in the brain typically associated with these types of accidents:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Falling from three or more feet off the ground
- Falling down five or more stairs
- Falling off a bicycle without a helmet
"It's important to see a doctor right away if your child becomes unconscious; has a headache that won't stop; or is dizzy, confused or nauseous," says Dr. Hall. "These symptoms may not occur until hours or days after the initial head injury."
When caring for your child's head injury after a visit with the doctor, monitor him or her closely for the following:
- Changes in memory and judgment
- Increased sensitivity to light and sound
- Changes in sleep, speech, reaction time or balance
"Make sure you understand your doctor's advice for care," stresses Dr. Hall. "If the changes do not improve, take your child back to the doctor. See the doctor right away if your child's symptoms get worse."
At Sharp Rees-Stealy, we want to empower you to make well-informed choices about tests and treatments for your family. That's why we've made it our priority to support our doctors in helping you make smart and effective decisions by participating in Choosing Wisely®.
An initiative of the ABIM Foundation, Choosing Wisely educates patients and doctors on selecting the most effective treatment available and avoiding unproductive, costly procedures. Sharp Rees-Stealy is the only medical group in Southern California to participate in this national campaign.