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Camping First Aid and Safety

How to Handle Head Injuries in Kids when Camping

Kids fall, run into things, and bump their heads often; so it’s no surprise that head injuries in kids are common. Bumps and bruises are part of childhood, but that’s also what can be so scary for parents.

When your toddler falls and faceplants at the campsite, when do you start to worry?

Recognizing and treating head injuries in kids is an essential skill for parents; especially now that there is more awareness about concussions and the long-term impact they can have.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), notes that falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries in kids of all ages, and the number one cause of head injuries in children under nine.  

The CDC also states that kids under four are the most frequent victims of head injuries.


Let’s think about it though; it’s not surprising when you consider that children under 4 are only just learning to walk and at one of the most inquisitive stages of their lives. Also why babyproofing is so critical, but that’s an entirely different topic.

Most of the bonks to the head will be minor and require little to no medical assistance. These kinds of injuries often end with just a bump or a bruise. However, they can sometimes result in more serious injuries, and cause damage to the brain.

How to React to Head Injuries in Kids

Remain calm. I know. Easier said than done, considering your child is probably in a lot of pain, crying, and there may even be blood. Know that your child will feel more at ease with you comforting them and telling them everything will be ok. Kids are unusually perceptive and will feed off your distress, so stay as calm as you can.

You want to be able to put the child in a comfortable position, with their head supported, but not compressed in any way. Try to comfort them while doing a quick assessment to determine if additional medical care is needed.

Few things cause me to worry or panic when it comes to my children getting hurt; head injuries in kids are something that even I worry about. Here are some simple things to look out for if your child bumps their head.

Head Injuries in Kids

Seek medical attention immediately if the child:

  • vomits several times following a head injury
  • loses consciousness
  • experiences a particularly hard blow to the head (ex: after falling from a high height)

If any of these occur, get help as fast as you can. Call 911.  If none of those happen, you can do a quick assessment!

Quick Assessment for Parents

Is the area still firm?

If your child managed to fracture their skull, the area might be slightly depressed and mushy (gross, I know). You can gently touch the area and if anything feels mushy- or not quite right- call 911.

Is the area swollen?

Head injuries in kids swell. A lot. Big bumps and goose eggs are normal. You can try to put an ice pack on their head, but my kids usually aren’t fans holding ice packs. The ice won’t treat the head injury, but it may help with swelling and could keep the goose egg from growing.

How are they acting?

You know your kids. What’s a typical reaction to injury for them? How long does it usually take them to bounce back? What’s normal for my kids may not be normal for yours. Once they calm down, do they seem to know where they are? Can they answer simple, age-appropriate questions? If any of these are out of the ordinary, give your doctor a call or head into an urgent care center.


PERRLA stands for Pupils Equal, Round, Reactive to Light and Accommodating. This is one of those things that irks me, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway because I see so much misinformation tossed around.

If you shine a flashlight in their eyes, the pupil should adjust, and both pupils should be about the same size. If a child falls, and the first thing you do is check their eyes, you’re looking at head injuries and concussions all wrong.

Yes, checking the pupils can tell you if there’s a severe head injury, but this is a pretty slow sign. If there’s a problem, you’ll notice other things wrong before this. Stop looking at the pupils and assuming ‘they’re even, so everything must be fine.’ No. That’s not always true.

When to Worry about Head Injuries in Kids

Immediately after, and up to a few weeks following, a head injury is a critical time to watch your child for any unusual behaviors. Be sure to take note if you notice any of the following brain injury symptoms:

  • Unequal or unusually large pupils and blurred vision
  • Vomiting
  • Problems with balancing and/or walking
  • Persistent headaches
  • Lethargy (contact the emergency room if your child is becoming increasingly difficult to wake)
  • Bleeding or discharge from the ear or nose
  • Unusual or confused behavior

And in infants:

  • High pitched crying
  • Difficulty feeding and/or vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Dents in the skull

If any of these symptoms begin to manifest, call your doctor immediately.

Wrapping Up

Head injuries in kids can be scary. When you know what to look for and what to do, the next time your kid bumps their head should be easier to manage.

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