What is a pneumocephalus?

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 release. Treatment may require the services of a neurosurgeon and the patient often has other neurological problems that may require some time in the hospital for inpatient treatment and monitoring.

In very rare cases, this condition occurs spontaneously. Most commonly, a pneumocephalus occurs as a result of complications from surgery on the skull. Surgical procedures such as neurosurgery and facial surgery can lead to the introduction of air into the skull. People who have sustained a penetrating head injury may also develop pneumocephalus and may also have a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak. 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 medical imaging of the brain and skull, air will be seen within the skull cavity and the shape of the brain may appear distorted.

Treatment options for pneumocephalus vary. In some cases, the condition resolves on its own with some watchful waiting. Other patients may be treated with bed rest on their backs and oxygen by inhalation. These patients are usually monitored by qualified nursing staff who check for signs of emerging neurological complications. Surgery is also an option for some patients if their condition does not seem to resolve in a timely manner.

Neurological injuries are a cause for concern. Whenever someone experiences head trauma, it is advisable to receive an evaluation by 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 get medical treatment right away if they haven't already been seen by a doctor. It is also important to be alert to symptoms of complications as described by a physician so that a patient cleared to go home can return to the hospital if they worsen.

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