avatar

When should you take your child to the emergency department?

mottblog - PCP or ER imageKnowing what to do when your child is sick can be a confusing experience. And it can be hard to think clearly when your child isn’t feeling well and needs your attention.

More often than not, your primary care office can be the most convenient, cost efficient way to get the care your child needs.

“When you’re not sure what to do, call your pediatrician,” says Kelly Orringer, MD, head of the General Pediatrics Division at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

That their primary care office can be their first call is a surprise to many families.

mottblog - ED waits“During the peak of flu season, and other outbreaks of viral illnesses, many visits to emergency departments are for non-emergent conditions” says Nicole Sroufe, MD, MPH, Service Chief of Children’s Emergency Services at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

“We take great pride in the fact that we have very low wait times to be seen by a physician. On average, patients are settled into a private exam space within 10 minutes of their arrival, but we want to make sure patients get the right care as conveniently as possible for them. There are many times that can be done without a trip to the ED. ”

In addition to familiar sights and sounds, there are a number of other benefits to making primary care your first stop, including providers who can access your child’s complete medical records as well as standard primary care visit co-pays (vs. urgent care or emergency department co-pays).

What about when illness strikes at night or on a weekend? Many primary care offices offer access to doctors and nurses by phone during evenings, weekends and holidays, but parents may feel reluctant to reach out to their primary care provider after-hours.

“As your child’s medical ‘home base,’ we want to be involved as much as possible in your child’s health,” says Orringer. “And if your physician recommends you do get immediate care, he or she can help you decide where to seek help,” says Dr. Orringer.

mott blog - pcp 247Where to go for care

Your child’s primary care team can help with non-emergency conditions including:

  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Coughs, colds and sore throats
  • Upset stomach
  • Bladder and urinary tract infections
  • Bumps, minor cuts and scrapes
  • Ear aches
  • Sinus pain
  • Skin problems
  • Sprains and strains

Occasionally there may be situations where it is necessary to get immediate care for your child.

Go to an emergency department in any of the following situations:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe allergic reaction with trouble breathing, swelling, hives
  • High fever with headache and stiff neck
  • Suddenly hard to wake up, too sleepy, confused
  • Suddenly not able to speak, see, walk, or move
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Deep wound
  • Serious burn
  • Coughing or throwing up bloodmottblog - CES 24 7
  • Possible broken bone, loss of movement, especially if the bone is pushing through the skin
  • A body part near an injured bone is numb, tingling, weak, cold, or pale
  • Fast heartbeat that doesn’t slow down
  • Your child has been throwing up and now has a dry mouth, is not crying tears, has not urinated in over 8 hours, or is acting very sleepy/out of it.
  • Your child is under the age of 2 months and has a rectal temperature greater than 100.4.

Call 911 immediately for the following situations:

  • Choking
  • Child is not breathing or has turned blue
  • Head injury and your child is unconscious
  • Injury to neck or spine
  • Severe burn
  • Seizure that last more than 5 minutes
  • Bleeding that can’t be stopped
  • Severe difficulty breathing

Take the next step:


mott blog - logo thumbUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.