Your child doesn't feel well, but should you take them to the hospital ER?
Published: March 31, 2019
Sometimes it can be hard to tell when a child requires urgent medical treatment or if the concern can wait.
Dr. Sam Strachan, a pediatric emergency fellow at Children’s of Alabama, says the ER at Children’s receives approximately 80,000 visits each year – an average of 219 patients each day!
While the ER will never turn anyone away, a child may be better served and have a shorter wait time by seeing their pediatrician instead. “Every child should have a pediatrician,” he says. “If a child isn’t feeling well, even in the middle of the night, you can always call your pediatrician’s on-call number for advice.”
Always take your child to the emergency department in a true emergency. These signs include:
Go to ER for:
- serious injury
- trouble breathing
- not drinking enough, not urinating enough
- unusual sleepiness or confusion
- head injury and is vomiting
- eye injury
- serious burn
- ingested poison or unknown substance
Call 911 if:
- isn’t breathing or is turning blue
- is unconscious after a fall
- is having a seizure
- has a serious allergic reaction
- has broken a bone that sticks out through the skin
- is choking
- has a large cut that is bleeding uncontrollably
A high fever can be scary for a parent. However, Strachan says it’s the body’s natural defense mechanism against infection. “A lot of parents are concerned with a fever of 104 or 105 in their child,” he says. “However, children can deal with high fevers better than adults can.” Babies are the exception. “Any baby under two months old should be seen right away for any fever greater than or equal to 100.4,” he adds.
Strachan offers these tips to help decide if a child needs to go to the emergency department in the event of a fever:
- If feverish, try Motrin or Tylenol, depending on the age of the child
- If the child feels well between fever, wait to see pediatrician until the next day
If it’s not a true emergency, it’s always best to wait to see your child’s pediatrician. “On the front end, you’re taking away resources from children who really need it,” Strachan says. There’s another benefit to seeing the pediatrician. “They know your child, they know your child’s history,” Strachan says.