Does your child need emergency care?

No parent wants a child to be ill or injured. And for many parents, anything that goes wrong with their children may feel like an emergency. But rushing to the emergency department may not the best choice for your child’s care — and may be unnecessary. How do you decide if your child needs to go to the emergency department?

An emergency exists when you believe a severe injury or illness is threatening your child’s health or may cause permanent harm. Although every child and situation is different, the following behaviors and conditions represent reasons to bring your child to the emergency department:

  • Acting strangely or fussy, or becoming more withdrawn and less alert
  • Unconsciousness or unresponsive when you talk to your child
  • Rhythmic jerking and loss of consciousness (seizures)
  • Increasing effort or trouble breathing
  • Severe or ongoing vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea or stools
  • Skin or lips that look blue, purple, or gray
  • Neck stiffness with fever or headache
  • Fever over 100.4 (taken rectally if less than 2 months of age)
  • Increasing or severe persistent pain
  • A cut that is large, deep, or involves the head, chest, or abdomen
  • Bleeding that does not stop after applying constant, direct pressure for five minutes
  • A burn that is large or involves the hands, feet, groin, chest, or face
  • A broken bone
  • Swallowing a poison or medication (immediately call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222)
  • Loss of consciousness, confusion, headache, or vomiting after a head injury

Whenever your child is ill or injured, or if you’re unsure if an emergency exists, first call the child’s primary care physician (PCP). The physician should help you deal with the situation and decide if a visit to the emergency department is necessary. Since you and your child’s physician know your child best, you can decide on the most appropriate care for your child together. If you cannot reach the physician, or if you feel an emergency exists, then bring your child to the emergency department. Of course, call 9-1-1 if you believe your child’s life may be in immediate danger.

If you decide to come to the emergency department, bring your child’s regular medications (if any) or any suspected poisons the child might have ingested or been exposed to. If your child has special needs, it’s also helpful to provide the ER physician with an information sheet about those needs.

Initially, a nurse will see your child and determine the severity of the illness or injury. Physicians treat children in the emergency department according to the severity of their conditions.

Prepare for emergencies by keeping the phone numbers of your child’s physician close at hand and knowing the type of coverage provided after hours and on weekends.

Darwin Koller M.D., Board Certified Pediatric Emergency Medicine physician, sees children at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger’s Emergency Room. If your child has any of the behaviors or conditions listed above, seek medical attention immediately. For more information about Pediatric Emergency Medicine, check out their website or call 423-778-8100.