1. Be vigilant
Keep an eye on someone who has hit his head, even if the person never lost consciousness. “A lot of folks are still under the assumption that as long as you’re not knocked out, you’re OK, and that’s not true,” Ayotte says.
2. Look for dizziness, vomiting, headache and confusion
If the injured person has these signs, take him or her to an emergency room, says Dr. Jam Ghajar, clinical professor of neurological surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, and president of the Brain Trauma Foundation.
3. Look for changes in symptoms and behavior
Any sudden change, such as Morgan’s headache going from mild to severe in minutes, means the person needs medical attention. For example, Ghajar says, if a person gets suddenly sleepy in the first 12 hours after a hit, it may mean the parts of the brain responsible for staying awake are experiencing pressure from a bleed.
4. Be especially wary if someone a) has been drinking alcohol, b) is on blood thinners, c) is elderly or d) is a young athlete
It’s tough to distinguish brain-injured behavior from drunken behavior, so when in doubt, take the person to the hospital, Ghajar says. Also, blood thinners can turn a mild bleed into a major bleed, so be especially vigilant if the injured person is taking blood thinners such as warfarin.
He also warns people to be extra vigilant when an elderly person hits his or her head. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on traumatic brain injury and senior citizens. The CDC also has information on concussions in young athletes.
5. Go to a certified trauma center if you can
The American College of Surgeons has a list of certified trauma facilities; a hospital that’s not a trauma center may not have a neurosurgeon on call. You can also look on this map from the American Trauma Society. Find your state, select trauma centers, update the map, and you can find information about trauma centers in your area.