If your child got hit in the head, you need to make sure they don’t get unnecessary CT scans.

Here’s questions to ask the ER doctor if you’re worried about radiation exposure.

CT scans take about 15 minutes and are easy to conduct. Not all doctors in an emergency room setting practice the same screening protocol when it comes to deciding to order a CT scan for a child who’s been hit in the head.

CT scans can be life-saving, being that they can show a brain bleed as a result of getting hit in the head – which children often do during play or from accidents.

The chart below shows radiation exposure from a CT scan of the head compared to other common sources of radiation.

Questions Parents Should Ask About CT Scans for Kids’ Head Trauma

• Ask if the CT scan is necessary. Do not fear being thought of as “challenging a doctor” by asking this question. Think of yourself as an inquiring customer. You have a right to ask this question.

• Ask about other options such as MRI or ultrasound, as these do not use radiation. However, chances are high that an ER is not going to give an MRI for head trauma since it takes much longer.

• If the ER doctor will order only a CT scan, ask how the radiation dose will be adjusted to ensure use of minimal radiation.

• The answer to this question should include whether or not the staff has the expertise to ensure minimal radiation.

What if Child Seems to Have Only a Minor Head Injury?

The above questions apply, but there’s a few more questions you should ask the ER doctor if your child seems okay.

• Can a watchful waiting approach, in the emergency room, be taken instead of a hasty CT scan?

• If there’s no evidence of worsening symptoms, can the CT scan be put on hold while the child is held for several hours of observation?

• Be prepared for that—several hours—as this is what’s necessary for doctors to gain a strong foothold on whether or not head trauma can be serious or is truly minor.

• Ask about looking out for a change in, or worsening of, symptoms (if any) over those several hours as being the warrant for a CT scan rather than just the claim, “My child hit her head.”

Symptoms for Parents to Watch Out For

“If any symptoms appear after a head injury, a doctor should be immediately consulted,” says Dr. Lisa Lewis, MD, a board certified pediatrician in Fort Worth, Texas, and author of “Feed the Baby Hummus, Pediatrician-Backed Secrets from Cultures Around the World.”

“Although not as common as a concussion, brain hemorrhage (a bleed in the brain) can be life-threatening and require immediate intervention,” says Dr. Lewis.

“Symptoms to look out for that will warrant an immediate ER visit: vomiting, loss of consciousness, altered mental state, difficulty walking, not able to eat or talk, difficulty awakening.”

A worsening headache and nausea are also symptoms to take seriously and warrant an ER trip.

Having 20+ years’ experience, Dr. Lewis completed her pediatrics residency at Texas A&M University Health Science Center, Scott and White Memorial Hospital. For two years afterward she was assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Texas A&M University Health Science Center.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.