Getting a blow to the head is a pain at the best of times. The end result could be anything from a bruise or headache to a concussion or much worse. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell when a head injury warrants a trip to the hospital.

To learn more about how to recognize a head injury and judge its severity, we spoke with Dr. Chantel Debert, an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences and Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Calgary.

Q: What are the short-term implications of a mild concussion?

Chantel: Most concussions, or mild traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), improve within the first seven to 10 days of injury, but approximately 10-15 per cent of patients have symptoms that persist for longer. Of these, most people have difficulty with thinking, concentration and memory; headaches; poor balance; vision and hearing problems; weakness; fatigue and difficulty sleeping. If the head injury goes undiagnosed and is not treated properly initially, these symptoms are more likely to occur and persist.

Q: What are the possible long-term effects of a severe blow to the head?

Chantel: If the blow is severe enough, it could result in permanent memory, attention and concentration difficulties. Other permanent neurological problems, such as headaches, poor balance or motor control, depression, anxiety, poor sleep, poor vision or hearing, and dizziness, could also result. The more severe the head injury, the symptoms are often more severe.

Q: How do you know if you have a TBI?

Chantel: If, after hitting your head, you experience any of the following, you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • A feeling of being dazed or confused for over an hour
  • Changes in vision or hearing
  • Nausea with two or more bouts of vomiting
  • Severe headache
  • Persistent dizziness

Either way, you should see your family doctor within 48 hours.

Do I have a mild traumatic brain injury?

Q: What warning signs should you look for in other people?

Chantel: If someone around you receives a blow to the head, watch for confusion, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, a decreased level of consciousness, poor balance, abnormal movements or excessive sleepiness. Any of these could be a sign of a TBI and indicate that the person should be taken to a doctor.

What to watch for - head injury signs and symptoms

How to avoid brain injury

When it comes to preventing brain injury, we have two pieces of advice:

  1. Be aware and alert. That means conducting hazard assessments, watching out for your co-workers and being mindful of your own personal safety practices.
  2. Always wear a properly fitted hard hat.

To learn more about the importance of personal protective equipment, check out this previous blog post: What you know about PPE could save your life.