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My kid hit his head! Does he need a CT scan?

Usually not. And getting the test when it’s not needed poses risks.

It’s natural to worry if your child falls and hits his head. But—perhaps prompted by the growing concern aboutconcussions, especially in sports—parents seem to be taking those accidents more seriously. The number of emergency room visits for head injuries in children has almost doubled in the past decade, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And “more and more parents arrive in the ER with the idea that their visit won’t be complete without a head CT,” says James Duncan, M.D., a radiologist at Washington University in St. Louis who had studied the overuse of CT scans. In fact, almost half of children with head injuries seen in emergency rooms now get CT scans. But about one-third of them are not needed, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In most cases a neurological exam, in­clud­ing questions about the injury and symptoms, can determine whether your child has a minor concussion. CT scans are necessary if the doctor suspects a skull fracture, bleeding in the brain, or other serious injury, or if your child was involved in a serious accident (like a car crash, falling off a bike without a helmet, or falling down five or more stairs) or is unconscious, has tingling on one side of the body, or suffers hearing or vision loss.

Read more about when children need imaging tests for hits to the head, with advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

—David Schipper

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