What is a skull X-ray?

A skull X-ray is an imaging test doctors use to examine the bones of the skull, including the facial bones, the nose, and the sinuses. See a Body Map of the skull.

It’s an easy, quick, and effective method that has been used for decades to help doctors view the area that houses your most vital organ — your brain.

Prior to your X-ray, your doctor will tell you the exact reason for your X-ray. A skull X-ray is typically done after a traumatic head injury. The X-ray allows your doctor to inspect any damage from the injury.

Other reasons you may undergo a skull X-ray include:

X-rays require little preparation on your part.

Before the X-ray, you may need to undress from the waist up and change into a hospital gown. You may be able to keep your clothing on if your clothing doesn’t have metal snaps or zippers.

You’ll have to remove any jewelry, eyeglasses, and other metals from around your head. This includes necklaces and earrings. Metal can interfere with the clarity of the X-ray image.

Inform your doctor if you have any kind of surgically implanted device, such as a metal plate in your head, an artificial heart valve, or a pacemaker. Even though these things might interfere somewhat with the image, your doctor may still choose to perform an X-ray.

Other scans, such as an MRI, can be risky for people with metal in their bodies.

An X-ray is performed in a special room with a movable X-ray camera attached to a large metal arm. It’s designed to be able to take multiple X-rays of various body parts.

For a skull X-ray, you’ll sit in a chair or lie down on a specialized table. A drawer under the table contains the X-ray film or a special sensor that helps record the images on a computer. A lead apron will be placed over your body, which will protect your body (especially the genital region and breasts) from radiation.

The X-ray technician may have you lie on your back to start, but you’ll have to change positions so the camera can capture front and side views. While the images are being taken, you’ll be asked to hold your breath and stay very still. You won’t feel the X-ray pass through you.

The procedure should take about 20 to 30 minutes. Once the test is complete, you can go about your day as you normally would.

While X-rays use radiation, none of it remains in your body when the test is done. Doctors argue that the benefits of the test outweigh any risk from exposure to the minimal amount of radiation produced.

However, while the level of exposure is considered safe for adults, repeated exposure may not be safe for developing fetuses. If you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, talk to your doctor.

A radiologist and your doctor will go over the images, which are usually developed on large sheets of film.

As the radiation passes through your body onto the film, denser materials, such as bone and muscle, appear white. Tumors and other growths may also appear white. When presented against a lit background, your doctor and radiologist will be able to determine any problems.

Depending on what the X-rays show, your doctor may order other follow-up imaging scans, such as an MRI or CT scan.