Is it a Medical Emergency?
Even healthy kids get hurt and sick sometimes. In some cases, you will know that you need to head straight to the emergency room (ER) at the nearest hospital. In other cases, it's more difficult to determine whether an injury or an illness needs the attention of a medical professional or can be treated at home.
Different problems require different levels of care. And when your child needs some sort of medical help, you have many options:
- Handle the problem at home. Many minor injuries and illnesses, including some cuts, certain types of rashes, coughs, colds, scrapes, and bruises, can be handled with home care and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.
- Call your doctor. If you're unsure of the level of medical care your child needs, your doctor — or a nurse who works in the office — can help you decide what steps to take and how.
- Visit an urgent care center. An urgent care center can be a good option for non-emergencies at night and on weekends when your doctor may not be in the office. At these centers, you can usually get things like X-rays, stitches, and care for minor injuries that aren't life threatening yet require medical attention on the same day.
- Visit a hospital emergency room. An ER — also called an emergency department (ED) — can handle a wide variety of serious problems, such as severe bleeding, head trauma, seizures, meningitis, breathing difficulties, dehydration, and serious bacterial infections.
- Call 911 for an ambulance. Some situations are so serious that you need the help of trained medical personnel on the way to the hospital. These might include if your child: has been in a car accident, has a head or neck injury, has ingested too much medication and is now hard to rouse, or is not breathing or is turning blue. In these cases, dial 911 for an ambulance.
As a parent, it can be hard to make these judgment calls. You don't want to rush to the ER if it isn't really an emergency and can wait until a doctor's appointment. On the other hand, you don't want to hesitate to get medical attention if your child needs treatment right away. As your kids grow — and inevitably incurs sicknesses and calamities — you'll learn to trust yourself to decide when it's an emergency.
Remember that in cases when you know the problem is minor, it's best to contact your child's doctor, go to an urgent care center, or handle it at home. Sometimes, ERs can be crowded and it can take a long time for minor problems to be treated.
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