Child Health Emergencies

Having a child become seriously ill or get hurt in a traumatic accident is a parent’s worst nightmare. Adding to these fears is the worry that you might make the wrong decision regarding where your child should be treated.

“Parents and caregivers should use their best judgment and call for advice if they’re in doubt as to whether a trip to the emergency room or a pediatrician’s office is in order,” says Steven Krug, M.D., chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Pediatric Emergency Medicine in Chicago. “A good guideline to follow is that a medical emergency is any time your child has an injury or illness you believe threatens his or her health or may cause permanent harm.”

Symptoms to heed

Many emergencies involve sudden injuries caused by bicycle or car crashes, falls, burns, near drownings, electric shocks, or poisoning.

If your child has any of the following signs or symptoms, says Dr. Krug, you should call for emergency medical assistance:

  • Unconsciousness or no response when spoken to

  • Rhythmic jerking and loss of consciousness

  • Trouble with breathing or shortness of breath

  • Skin or lips that look blue, purple, or gray

  • Increasing or severe persistent pain

  • A cut that’s large, deep, or involves the head, chest, or abdomen

  • Neck stiffness or a rash with fever

  • Severe bleeding or head trauma

  • A burn that’s large or involves the hands, feet, groin, chest, or face

  • A change in mental status, such as suddenly becoming unusually sleepy, disoriented, or confused

  • A rapid heartbeat that doesn’t slow down

Steps to take

If you believe your child needs emergency medical care, do the following:

  • Call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 if your child has swallowed a medication or poison.

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number.

“For nonemergency conditions, your first call should be to the child’s pediatrician,” says Dr. Krug. “If you believe an injury or illness is threatening your child’s health or may cause permanent harm, call for an ambulance.”


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