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8 things to know before heading to the ER

Is it a medical emergency?

Conditions or symptoms that require emergency room treatment include:

  • rapid or labored breathing
  • becoming disoriented or confused
  • severe bleeding
  • stiff neck and fever with or without a rash
  • rapid heartbeat
  • head trauma
  • ingestion of a poisonous substance or medication
  • fever with rapidly spreading rash

Nothing can send you into panic mode faster than seeing your child sick or hurt. But before you sweep him or her up into your arms and race off to the emergency room (ER), you need to do a few things:

  1. Be able to identify emergency symptoms. Is he or she having difficulty breathing? Is your child disoriented? Does he or she have a cut that won’t stop bleeding? These all warrant a trip to the ER as soon as possible.
  2. Determine whether non-emergency symptoms need the ER. If your child’s condition isn’t life threatening, call your pediatrician. Let him or her determine if a trip to an urgent care center or a visit to the office would better serve you. If your child needs more immediate care, your pediatrician can call ahead and let hospital staff know you’re coming.
  3. Be well versed on your child’s medical history. To help your child get the proper treatment, let hospital staff know about his or her medications, allergies or illnesses and any surgeries he or she has undergone.
  4. Take the evidence with you. If your child has ingested medication or a household product, take it with you so doctors and nurses know what they’re dealing with. If an object—like a marble—was swallowed, try to bring an example of it to the hospital.
  5. Expect to wait. Hospitals treat critical patients first, and your child may not be the most urgent case. Bring items to help your child pass the time, such as coloring books and toys. Don’t forget diversions for yourself!
  6. Pack a change of clothes and toothbrush for you and your child. This preparation helps if your child is admitted.
  7. Comfort your child. Hospitals can be scary places, so let your son or daughter know that this is the place to get better. Tell him or her what to expect to ease the anxiety. Don’t lose your cool; if you’re calm, your child is more likely to be, too.
  8. Get ready to take notes. Bring a pen and paper to jot down what doctors and nurses tell you about your child’s condition, any treatment he or she receives, follow-up care instructions and the names of medical personnel who see your child.

Symptoms that may require an ambulance include severe choking, a drug overdose or a serious injury such as from a car accident. In these cases, call for emergency medical help.


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