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When to Take Your Kid to the ER

By Kate Gardner 

A few months ago my oldest daughter dropped a dumbbell on her hand. Her finger instantly swelled up and turned an amazing combination of blue and purple. While she could barely move the digit, it didn't look broken and there was no blood. I was faced with one of the trickiest decisions of parenting: Should she go to the emergency room? 

ER Overuse

I'm far from alone. Kids hurt themselves all the time and it isn't always clear which injuries are true emergencies. In the American Journal of Managed Care, researchers reported that about 30 percent of emergency room visits may be for injuries and illnesses that are not urgent. Considering that the Centers for Disease Control estimate that we visit the ER 136.9 million times each year, that adds up to a possible 41 million visits that could have been handled by an urgent care facility or other healthcare providers. 

From an individual standpoint, visiting the ER can be hard on kids. The wait for treatment can be long and care is provided by doctors and nurses with whom they aren't familiar. Additionally, emergency care typically costs more than going to an urgent care facility or seeing your regular healthcare provider. Using the emergency room for non-urgent matters has also been reported to drive up healthcare costs and make it harder for emergency personnel to take care of patients who are having true emergencies. 

When to Go to the ER

When should you take your child to the emergency room? According to, you should go to the emergency room if your child:

  • Is suddenly hard to wake or confused
  • Has an eye injury
  • Is having trouble breathing
  • Has a serious burn
  • Has a fast heartbeat that won't slow down
  • Has a fever accompanied by a stiff neck
  • Has a head injury with vomiting
  • Has ingested a poison, drug, or other unknown substance

When to Call 911 also says to call 911 if you're child: 

  • Isn't breathing or is turning blue
  • Is unconscious
  • Is having a severe allergic reaction
  • Has a broken bone sticking through the skin
  • Has taken an unknown amount of medicine and is hard to wake
  • Is choking
  • Has uncontrollable bleeding from a large wound or cut

If your child's illness or injury isn't a clear-cut emergency, it is always OK to call a healthcare provider and ask them what should be done. If your regular provider is closed, urgent care facilities can help too. Our pediatrician's office wasn't open when my daughter hurt her finger so we took her to an urgent care office where they diagnosed a sprain and a whole lot of bruising. A finger splint and some ice cream and she was (more or less) good as new!

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Morrisville, N.C.

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