What’s a pneumocephalus?

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Pneumocephalus is a condition where gas is present in the skull, caused by surgery, head injury, or scuba diving. Diagnosis can be tricky, and treatment options vary from watchful waiting to surgery. Head injuries should always be evaluated by a neurologist.

Pneumocephalus is a condition in which gas is present in the skull. There are a number of things that can cause this condition and it can be a neurological emergency in the case of tension pneumocephalus, where air can enter the skull but has no outlet for its release. Treatment may require the services of a neurosurgeon, and the patient often has other neurological problems that may require time in the hospital for treatment and inpatient monitoring.

In very rare cases, this condition occurs spontaneously. Most commonly, the condition occurs as a result of complications from surgery on the skull. Surgical procedures such as neurosurgery and facial surgery can both lead to the introduction of air into the skull. People who have suffered a penetrating head injury may also develop pneumocephalus and may also have a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak. Scuba diving has also been linked to pneumocephalus in some patients.

Diagnosing this condition can sometimes be tricky. The patient often presents with a headache and may also have neurological symptoms related to pressure on the brain caused by the accumulation of air. If a doctor determines that there is a genuine neurological problem and orders a medical imaging study of the brain and skull, air will be visible within the cranial cavity and the shape of the brain may appear distorted.

Treatment options for pneumocephalus vary. In some cases, the condition clears up on its own with watchful waiting. Other patients can be treated with bed rest on their back and oxygen inhalation. These patients are usually monitored by trained nursing staff who check for signs of emerging neurological complications. Surgery is also an option for some patients if their condition doesn’t seem to be resolving in a timely manner.

Neurological injuries are a cause for concern. Whenever someone suffers a head injury, it is advisable to get an evaluation from a neurologist who can check for signs of damage to the brain and spinal cord. People who develop headaches after falls or blows to the head should seek immediate medical attention if they have not already been seen by a doctor. It is also important to pay attention to the symptoms of complications described by a doctor so that a patient allowed to go home can be taken back to the hospital if they get worse.

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