Friday, February 12, 2010

When do I take my child to the emergency department?

The answer to this question is not always easy. Sometimes you just need to use your best parental instincts but here's some tips to help you out:

If you think your child needs medical attention, the first thing you should do is call your child's health care provider. Don't worry about calling them after hours- that is what they are there for. Many practices have a nurse triage system where you can call and talk to a nurse anytime and the nurse will advise you or contact the doctor if necessary. They can also help you to decide if your child's problem can wait until the next day or if he or she needs to be seen immediately.

Here are some guidelines about what can wait and what cannot wait:

Go to the emergency department immediately
Your child is not breathing
Your child won't wake up
You feel that moving your child would make their condition worse
Severe bleeding
Severe breathing problems
Severe abdominal pain

Problems that can be seen in urgent care
Sore throat
Ear infections
Mild to moderate wheezing (some kids with asthma may need to be seen in the ED)
Sports injuries- (some urgent care centers can take care of fractures, some will send you to the ED)
Minor cuts, scrapes
Minor sutures
Fever (babies less than 12 weeks old who have a fever need to go to the ED)
Vomiting/diarrhea (severe symptoms may need IV fluids and may need to go to the ED)

Problems that can wait until the next day
Mild upper respiratory infections
Chronic problems (generally if the problem has been present for a few days then it can wait until your health care provider's office opens)

These are of course only general guidelines. The best plan is to call your child's health care provider and discuss your child's particular problem. They will tell you where and when your child should be seen.



  1. Haha, how about poisoning to the immediate list?

  2. Hi Laura,
    I am over from MM Bigtent.
    I would also add dehydration for toddlers. Last Christmas we took my 18m old to the ER since he had only had 1 wet diaper in 8 hrs and was refusing to eat/drink. Our PCP's nurse sent us there...turned out to be Pneumonia.

  3. that's another great topic! look for an upcoming blog post about it!