While you can manage mild TBIs at home, it’s still important to see a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Some symptoms may not show up right away. For severe TBIs, treatment may include medication, surgery, and rehabilitation.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) result from sudden trauma to your brain. They can result from a sudden blow to your head or if something penetrates your skull and enters your brain.

TBIs can range from mild to life threatening. They’re the main cause of death in young people in developed countries. In the United States, experts estimate that 1.7 million people experience a TBI. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 64,000 people died from TBI-related conditions in 2020.

You can usually manage mild TBIs, also called concussions, at home. But concussions still require proper medical evaluation. More severe TBIs may require surgery or medications to manage symptoms and prevent potentially fatal complications.

Read on to learn more about TBIs management, including home remedies, medications, and surgical treatment.

It’s important to seek immediate medical attention after any potential TBI.

You can treat most mild injuries at home, but some symptoms might not appear until hours to days after your injury. Even if your doctor doesn’t see any signs of serious brain damage, they might still want to monitor you for symptoms for 4 to 6 hours.

The following can also be early signs and symptoms of a concussion. If you or someone else develops any of these in the days following a head injury, it’s important to see a doctor.

vision problemsconcentration problemsanxietysleeping more or less than usual
nausea or vomitingmemory problemsirritabilitytrouble falling asleep
fatiguebrain fogbeing more emotional than usual
balance problems
light or noise sensitivity
When to contact a doctor

According to the CDC, a person with a possible TBI should always seek medical attention. A doctor can assess the degree of damage and build you a treatment plan to help speed up your recovery.

Signs and symptoms that should always prompt a visit to the emergency room after a head injury include:

  • change in mental status, such as memory loss
  • loss of consciousness
  • confusion
  • headache with nausea or vomiting
  • any other concerning symptoms

Mild TBIs often don’t require any specific treatment other than rest. Still, it’s critical to receive a proper medical evaluation.

It’s important to physically and mentally rest for the first 24 to 48 hours after your injury. During this period, it’s a good idea to limit physical activity and mental activities that require high mental concentration, especially if they make your symptoms worse.

Mental activities you might need to avoid include:

  • video games
  • watching television
  • looking at your phone or other screen for too long
  • schoolwork or mentally stimulating work
  • reading
  • texting

After the initial rest period, a healthcare professional will likely recommend progressing to regular activity in stages and only progressing when you can complete a stage symptom-free.

For example, the return to a sport program for an athlete might look something like this:

StageExample activity
1daily activities that don’t cause symptoms
2walking or stationary cycling to moderately raise your heart rate
3easy sport-specific drills like running or skating
4harder sport-specific but noncontact drills
5regular training
6return to matches or competition

A program for a student returning to school might look something like this:

StageExample activity
1daily activities like texting or reading, if they don’t cause symptoms starting in small blocks of 5 to 15 minutes
2homework, reading, and other cognitive activities outside the classroom
3reintroduction of schoolwork, possibly starting with partial school days or with increased breaks
4gradual progression of activities until a full school day is tolerable

Painkillers may help control headaches caused by a concussion, but there’s limited evidence to support their effectiveness. Your doctor may recommend:

Doctors don’t generally recommend other medications that may alter your cognitive function or mood to help treat concussions, as these can mask symptoms.

Drugs for treating the initial injury

Health professionals use many different drugs immediately after a TBI to reduce inflammation in your brain and prevent further damage. Some of these medications include:

  • dexamethasone
  • meloxicam
  • etazolate
  • carprofen
  • indomethacin

They may also administer the following types of drugs immediately after an injury to prevent complications:

  • anticonvulsants to prevent seizures
  • coma-inducing drugs to reduce oxygen consumption by the brain
  • diuretics to reduce pressure inside the brain

Drugs for treating chronic complications

Many different medications can help treat complications of moderate to severe TBIs. These can include:

Researchers are making promising advances in biological treatments, but more research is needed to understand their effectiveness and potential uses. Some of the treatments under investigation include:

You may require emergency surgery after a severe TBI to reduce potentially life threatening complications. Surgery might include:

  • Hematoma removal: Leaking blood inside or around your brain can put pressure on brain tissue and cause permanent damage. You may need surgery to remove this blood.
  • Skull fracture repair: You may need bone fracture surgery to repair fractures in your skull or to remove skull fragments from your brain.
  • Surgery to stop bleeding: Some injuries can cause life threatening amounts of blood loss. You may need surgery to stop the bleeding.
  • Surgery to relieve pressure: A surgeon may perform a craniectomy to relieve pressure inside your skull and to relieve swelling. This procedure involves temporarily removing part of your skull.

The type and degree of rehabilitation you need after a TBI depends on your symptoms. Rehabilitation therapies can help you regain skills and recover functions that you may have lost. You may need rehabilitation therapies for a short time or ongoing for the rest of your life.

Physical rehabilitation to help you regain movement and speech may include:

Other therapies might include:

  • cognitive therapy to improve your memory, attention, and cognitive ability
  • vocational counseling to help you return to work
  • psychological counseling to help you learn new coping skills and improve your emotional well-being

Researchers continue to examine the potential benefits of virtual reality and videogaming-based therapy for treating complications like:

  • balance problems
  • cognitive problems
  • attention and concentration deficits

Some studies have found promising results from stem cell therapy. There has been an increasing amount of research in this field. Still, more research is needed to understand the potential benefit.

When can I return to regular activities after a TBI?

The amount of time it takes to return to your daily activities after a TBI varies widely depending on factors like the severity of your injury and your symptoms. It’s important to follow a healthcare professional’s advice.

Mild concussion symptoms usually pass after a couple of weeks. Severe injuries can cause permanent disability that may permanently limit certain activities.

Was this helpful?

TBIs can range from mild to life threatening, but even mild TBIs require a medical examination. You can treat most mild TBIs at home with rest. More severe injuries may require surgery or medications to alleviate symptoms.

A doctor may recommend rehabilitation, such as physical therapy or speech therapy, to treat complications. Whether you need rehabilitation therapy largely depends on your specific symptoms.

It’s always best to follow a healthcare professional’s advice about when it’s safe to return to your daily activities. They’ll likely recommend returning to physical and mental activity in stages.