When to Go to the ER and When to Stay Home
It is natural for you to get into panic mode if your child shows a sign of illness. This can make it hard for you as a parent to distinguish between when to stay home and keep an eye on the symptoms, versus when to rush to the emergency room (ER) or pay a regular visit to your family doctor. The ER is full of life threatening cases that need immediate treatment and your child, if not in that scenario, will have to wait a long time to get any kind of attention. Let’s understand how to distinguish the level of criticality among common emergencies for kids aged 0-2 years.
If your baby is less than three months old and has a temperature of 38 Celsius. or higher, go to the ER immediately. If an older child has a fever, you need to consider the duration of the fever with other symptoms and signs before defaulting to the Children’s Emergency. For example, a usually healthy and fully vaccinated 1-2-year-old child that is still pretty active despite running a temperature of 39.2 celsius is not a cause for worry. However, if the same child becomes lethargic and starts avoiding fluids, take him to a family doctor.
If your young baby is experiencing labored breathing with a breath rate going more than 60 times a minute, making it hard for him to drink, a doctor needs to be approached immediately to check for pneumonia. You should make a trip to the emergency room if she is also turning blue and/or has a high fever.
Children vomiting sporadically while coughing or when they have the flu are quite normal. What would require immediate medical intervention in the ER is when the frequency of vomiting increases accompanied by bright green or bright yellow bile, or in the worst scenario, by blood. In the scenario that your child refuses to drink water and does not urinate for hours or vomits for more than 24 hours, a pediatrician should be seen immediately.
Injuries can be a little tricky to judge, unless you keep the following symptoms in mind. If there is no bleeding or the bleeding has stopped, no numbness, and your child is able to move the injured part of their body, the ER can be avoided and a doctor can be consulted if discomfort persists.
The ER should be your next stop if there is lots of swelling, numbness and the injured body part looks deformed, or if there is a major open injury.
In case of a fall, if your child vomits more than once, there is an escalating pain, blurred vision with hearing or walking seeming off mark, see the doctor that very day.
A normal cough and cold is seldom a reason to rush your child to the ER. However, you would want to seek medical attention if your child is suffering from either of the four complications of a cold that include ear infection, sinus infection, pneumonia or bacterial bronchitis with a fever for more than five days over 38.3 celsius.
A visit to the ER should be imminent if your child has severe wheezing that is making breathing difficult or his lips or mouth are turning blue due to short breath.
Rashes are a pretty common phenomenon that in a majority of cases do not require immediate intervention. Except for a rash called purpura that involves ruptured blood vessels under the skin, the rest heal with time. Unless your child is unusually ill and the rashes persist for more than four weeks, do not rush to the doctor.
However, in the case your child has itchy hives with raised welts that is accompanied by wheezing, swollen lips or trouble swallowing or breathing, go to the ER.
Baby refuses to eat
Most babies go through a phase of food refusal which is rarely a cause for a trip to the ER. If the food refusal stage persists for a couple of days, a visit to the pediatrician can help understand the reason. Your toddler may refuse to eat if a new food is introduced to him or her. They also don’t take extra food if they have eaten enough, with the quantity of food varying between children. Never force-feed your child. Also, look out for symptoms of food intolerance that involves the digestive system with symptoms like gas, diarrhea, bloating and belly pain. Lactose, gluten and corn intolerance are the most common occurrences amongst children.
Excessive, non-stop crying
Since infants can’t communicate symptoms, parents sometimes fear excessive crying may indicate an underlying medical emergency. If no other symptoms can be observed, one of the primary reasons for babies under 3 months of age could be colic. However, it would also help to check to eliminate other possibilities like:
- Your child is not hungry
- Your child is getting enough sleep
- Your child has acid reflux
- Your child is sensitive to certain foods
- Your child is constipated
While we have tried to give you a primer on possible situations on when to wait or when to rush to the ER, not all possible scenarios have been covered. As a parent you are the best judge of your child’s situation, and you will be able to get the best treatment for your child if you are able to critically assess your child’s symptoms instead of pressing a panic button.
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