Key Points to Remember When Dealing With Head Injuries

Participants that take first aid training learn that head injuries are one of the most complicated scenario’s for a rescuer. First aid attendants and rescuers need to consider a number of different circumstances with a patient with a head injury. Recognizing and providing care for victims of head injuries is included in both the Red Cross emergency and standard first aid course. This article outlines key components when a rescuer suspects a head injury.

Suspect a Spinal.

For any significant injury to the head the rescuers should immediately suspect a spinal injury and react appropriately. If the patient is conscious or unconscious the rescuers need to minimize the movement of the head and immobilize as best as possible. Moving the head and neck when a person has a suspected spinal injury can cause severe and permanent damage to the central nervous system  if the spinal cord has been severed. Rescuers that attend first aid training learn simple and effective immobilization techniques.

Consider a Concussion.

Any head trauma can result in a concussion. It can be very difficult to determine if the patient has one. Typical signs can include:

  • bleeding from the ears
  • pupils are not equal and reactive to light
  • patient vomits
  • patient is disoriented
  • patient has sluggish speech

Unfortunately, patients with concussions may show little to no signs immediately after the trauma. Conditions can slowly worsen over time. For children the condition may quickly worsen (referred to as the “cliff” syndrome) after a period of time. Recognizing and responding to concussions can be divided into long and short term as symptoms can occur immediately or within a extended period of time. If you ever suspect a concussion visit your doctor immediately or contact EMS.

Don’t neglect the vitals.

If the patient is unconscious with a suspected spinal injury most rescuers get caught up in immobilizing the spine and potentially reducing further damage. However, in the meantime, the patient might have no vitals, be on the cusp of cardiac arrest and require CPR immediately. Vitals are more important than the spinal injury. Lifeguards are taught a saying, “life over limb”, which states that the life is more important than any limb. If a victim has a potential spinal injury coupled with no vitals check the scene for dangers, use a “jaw-thrust” to open the airway, check for breathing, contact EMS and begin CPR all while trying your best to limit the movement of the head, neck and spine.

All of the key issues with head injuries are covered in Red Cross emergency and standard first aid classes. In these courses participants will learn to recognize and treat spinal victims through hands-on training.

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