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When to Take Your Child to the ER (and When to Call the Doctor Instead)

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Photo: Prostock-studio (Shutterstock)

When kids get sick or injured, it can be a scary time to be a parent. But not every illness or bump on the head requires an immediate trip to the hospital, especially right now, when emergency rooms are packed—thanks in part to a surge of the cold virus RSV. So how do you know which symptoms are worth a trips to the emergency room?

First, if you think your child is experiencing an emergency, stop reading this article and go call 911. Better to be safe than sorry.

But there are a lot of common complaints that may result from colds, stomach bugs, and other illnesses that you think can probably wait until the office opens…but then again, you’re not sure. One option you have in the moment is to see check your insurance company has a nurse line—or if your child’s doctor has an after hours answering service—so you can get in touch with somebody who can help you figure out what to do.

But for general advice, here’s what pediatricians recommend—and you can also have some fun watching the below video from Nemours, which covers some of the common should-I-or-shouldn’t-I symptoms.

When you should go to the emergency room

Symptoms that need to be seen to right away include those serious enough to need immediate care, or when things have the potential to go downhill quickly. These include the following, but remember that you can call 911 rather than driving there yourself if the trouble seems especially urgent:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Fever above 100.4 in a newborn (6 weeks or younger)
  • Losing consciousness
  • Severe allergic reaction, especially if accompanied by trouble breathing
  • Passing out or fainting
  • Unusual sleepiness or confusion
  • Signs of dehydration, like not urinating.
  • Vomiting, passing out, or behaving strangely after hitting their head
  • Persistent fast heartbeat or unusually fast breathing
  • Having a seizure when they’ve never had one before, or a seizure that lasts more than 5 minutes (call 911 for these)
  • An injury that involves a deep cut, bleeding that won’t stop, or numbness or tingling
  • Coughing or throwing up blood

When a trip to the ER can probably wait

The following symptoms are things that may be unpleasant for your child but that aren’t usually urgent. These can usually wait until you’re able to get a doctor on the phone in the morning. (That said, trust your gut if something doesn’t feel right.)

  • Sore throat
  • Persistent cough
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Ear pain
  • Sinus pain
  • Cuts that are shallow and have stopped bleeding
  • Joint sprains and muscle strains

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends calling your child’s doctor anytime you aren’t sure what to do. (Even after office hours, you can usually be connected with an answering service that can get in touch with the doctor if needed.) They also have a more in-depth guide to common complaints here.

Read the full article here

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