7 Reasons to Take Your Child to an ER
By: Jendi Haug, M.D., Emergency Services Physician
Sometimes it is easy to know when to go to the ER – a broken bone or a cut that needs stitches. But often parents struggle with the decision of whether to take their child to the ER for other reasons.
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio has emergency centers just for children. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all weekends and all holidays.
Pediatric ERs are special emergency rooms that treat children from birth until age 17. The nursing staff, advanced practice providers such as nurse practitioners and physician associates, and physicians understand that children are not just little adults. Children have their own unique physiology that is different from adults. Their illnesses and injuries are oftentimes not treated in the same manner as an adult with similar symptoms. In a medical emergency, your child needs to see a doctor who only specializes in treating children.
Here are some examples of major and minor instances when you should go directly to your nearest pediatric emergency room:
- Newborn with a fever: Any infant 30 days old or younger with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher needs medical attention. No matter how you take the baby’s temperature (armpit, forehead, frontal sensors, or rectally), a temperature of 100.4 warrants an assessment by a physician or APP. Infants born premature or with underlying medical conditions are at an even higher risk of serious infection and should continue to come in even at older ages.
- Difficulty breathing: Abnormal breath sounds like wheezing or stridor can be associated with bronchiolitis or croup or pneumonia. They can be scary and cause kids to breathe fast. Kids may start working to breath- belly breathing, sucking in the skin between their ribs or refusing to lie down. These are worrisome symptoms and need to be immediately evaluated.
- Extremity or bony deformity: When there is an obvious deformity along with swelling or pain, they should be seen that same day for assessment of any possible fracture or dislocation.
- Abnormal/unusual behavior or altered mental status: You know your child and are the best gauge of your child’s behavior and their typical baseline. If something is not quite right, they need to see a medical provider for a complete evaluation.
- Open wounds not healing on their own: Wounds can be common for kids after a fall or other injury. Wounds that are large enough to be considered lacerations should be repaired soon in order to obtain better wound healing and less scarring. In addition, good cleaning and irrigation will help to prevent infections.
- Prolonged vomiting and diarrhea: Infants and young toddlers can rapidly become dehydrated, so even a few hours of symptoms can make them sick. Lack of a good amount of wet diapers or failure to urinate for a prolonged amount of time is a worrisome sign of dehydration for any child.
- Fainting or seizure activity: These symptoms should be assessed by a physician or advanced practice provider to determine why these episodes might be happening, especially if they are frequent or prolonged occurrences. A trip to the ER is warranted if your child has not been previously evaluated for fainting or seizures by a pediatric cardiologist or neurologist. Sometimes these symptoms are harmless, but they could also be related to serious medical conditions.
While this list is not exhaustive, these are just a few reasons why your child might require a visit to one of our emergency rooms. When available, discuss any questions you might have regarding the need for emergency care with your child’s pediatrician.