7 Signs You May Need to Go to the ER After a Head Injury

Updated: Apr. 01, 2021

When it comes to your brain, don't chance it.


You’re experiencing headaches

One of the most common symptoms following a head injury such as a concussion, headaches occur in about 30 percent of people reported, and are usually the result of blood or fluid collecting in small deposits inside the skull. The majority of headaches following a brain injury aren’t usually something to get too worried about, bit if you begin experiencing additional concussion symptoms in the first few days following the incident, such as arm or leg weakness, difficulty speaking, sleeplessness, or if a headache continues to get worse, you’ll want to visit a doctor immediately. (Here are more concussion symptoms you should never ignore.)


You can’t seem to smell anything

One possible symptom of a head injury is called anosmia, otherwise known as a loss of smell. This one may be harder to notice for most, even doctors, as many simply tend not to bother asking or testing for a loss of or change in one’s ability to sniff out an odor, but a good sign to keep in mind nevertheless. This surprisingly common symptom is likely caused by damage made to the nasal passageways, and because a loss of smell isn’t exclusive to a head injury (this can also be a sign of Alzheimer’s) it’s important to visit your doctor to identify the cause.


You experience bouts of amnesia

Memory loss is a pretty common symptom among those who have sustained a head injury, but should be taken seriously as it can indicate a contusion, or bruising of the brain tissue. The most common type of amnesia affects retrograde memory, or events that occurred in the past and before the injury, be it two seconds or two years prior. Many people who experience this type of symptom do eventually regain long-term memories over time, although usually in random, out-of-order pieces. Anterior grade affects memories occurring after the injury, usually due to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.


You feel dizzy

It’s not uncommon to feel dizzy after sustaining a head or neck injury, although if symptoms persist you may have what’s known as post-traumatic vertigo, which can be determined through a series of tests from a doctor. If you are diagnosed with post-traumatic vertigo, you might notice dizziness when the head is tilted in a certain position, migraine headaches accompanying dizzy spells, or even hearing loss, all of which can get worse over time if left untreated. Here are other medical reasons you might feel dizzy.


You experience vomiting

Vomiting may seem like an immediate physical reaction to outside trauma, but if you spill your lunch after sustaining a head or neck injury you’ll want to get to an ER, as it might spell more serious trouble. One UK study showed that 7 percent of adults and 12 percent of children surveyed experienced vomiting after sustaining a head injury. Of this group, 28 percent of adults and 33 percent of children were found to have experienced skull fracture, which indicates a correlation between the two.


Your sleep schedule is way off

According to a recent review of sleep disorder studies, 60 percent of people surveyed living with a traumatic brain injury experience long-term difficulties sleeping. For some, these disturbances prevent them from getting a good, full night’s rest, while for others, staying awake has become harder than ever before. This is likely due to damage done to the internal clock, a change in the way certain chemicals affect the body, or the brain’s inability to control the body’s breathing, the latter of which can result in sleep apnea. If you notice changes to your usual sleep habits or begin to experience signs of depression, it’s best to consult a doctor to avoid potentially harmful changes to the body.


You’re experiencing mood swings

Everyone goes through ups and downs throughout the day, and of course some type of emotional reaction is to be expected after hitting your head, but if the mood doesn’t tend to strike the occasion, it could be a sign of trouble. Often caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls behavior and emotion, these swings aren’t referring to minor instances of moodiness, but rather erratic outbursts. Some people experience a sudden burst of crying or laughter which many not necessarily reflect how the person is actually feeling, for example, laughing uncontrollably at a sad or upsetting story. Irritability will also increase for some following a concussion, so it’s best to check in with a doctor to keep those moods monitored.


Make sure to take any head injuries seriously

Medical professionals suggest taking all head injuries seriously to avoid potential complications, even much later in life. “Patients who have experienced moderate or severe traumatic brain injuries are at a significantly greater risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia,” says neuroscientist Amanda Borrow, a postdoctoral research associate. “While less is known about concussions, which would be considered a type of mild traumatic brain injury, there are data suggesting a higher risk of developing dementia, especially when the injury happened in patients 65 and older.”

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest