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When to go to the ER

When to bring your child to the Pediatric Emergency Room at NCH

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), any time you think someone may be significantly harmed or die unless medical care is given immediately, that's an emergency. The guidelines below are from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Many true emergencies involve sudden injuries. These injuries are often caused by the following:

  • Motor vehicle-related injuries (car crashes, pedestrian injuries) or other sudden impacts, such as from bicycle-related injuries or a fall from heights
  • Poisoning
  • Burns or smoke inhalation
  • Choking
  • "Nonfatal drowning" (once referred to as "near drowning")
  • Firearms or other weapons
  • Electric shocks

Other true emergencies can result from either medical illnesses or injuries. Often you can tell that these emergencies are happening if you observe that your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Acting strangely or becoming more withdrawn and less alert
  • Increasing trouble with breathing
  • Skin or lips that look blue or purple (or gray for darker-skinned children)
  • A cut or burn that is large or deep
  • Bleeding that does not stop
  • Rhythmical jerking and loss of consciousness (a seizure)
  • Unconsciousness
  • Any change in level of consciousness, confusion, a bad headache or vomiting several times after a head injury
  • Very loose or knocked-out teeth, or other major mouth or facial injuries
  • Increasing or severe persistent pain
  • Decreasing responsiveness when you talk to your child
  • Any change in level of consciousness, confusion, a bad headache or vomiting several times after a head injury. Click here for information about concussions, including signs and symptoms, treatment, and prevention tips.

Call your child’s pediatrician or the Poison Help Line (1-800-222-1222) at once if your child has swallowed a suspected poison or another person’s medication, even if your child has no signs or symptoms.

Do not make your child vomit by any means, including giving him syrup of ipecac, making him gag or giving him salt water. If you have syrup of ipecac in your home, flush it down the toilet and throw away the container.

Information for sitters

It is important that everyone who cares for your child, including childcare providers and sitters, knows where to find emergency phone numbers. If you have 911 service in your area, make sure your older children and your sitter know to dial 911 in case of an emergency. Be certain that they know your home address and phone number, since an emergency operator will ask for this information (see sidebar). Always leave the phone address where you can be located, including your cell phone number. You should also make sure your sitter knows any medications your child takes and any allergies he may have. Those caring for your child (including you and your spouse) also should take a CPR class.

Remember, in a medical emergency, always call 911 and/or your child’s pediatrician. If your child is seriously ill or injured, it may be safer for your child to be transported by emergency medical services (an ambulance).

When to go to an Immediate Care Center:

  • Sprains, bruises, minor broken bones
  • Respiratory infections, bronchitis
  • Eye injuries
  • Flu symptoms
  • Sore throats
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Earaches and sore throat
  • Simple injuries, including cuts and burns
  • Skin problems such as poison ivy

NCH has four convenient Immediate Care locations—in Buffalo Grove, Lake Zurich and Schaumburg—that treat children under 14 and adults. Learn more.

Go to the NCH Adult Emergency Room page.

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Last Updated 04/10/2009