When Parents Should or Shouldn't Take Their Child to the ER

Children think they are invincible. They are constantly taking risks that many times result in injuries. When an injury does occur, parents wonder whether it is serious enough to take the child to the hospital or whether they can safely treat the injury at home. Following are examples of when parents should or shouldn’t take their child to the emergency room:

  1. Head injuries: This is cause for a visit to the emergency room. Any wounds may need to be stitched or stapled. Your child may have a concussion, which can result in a range of conditions from headache to vomiting to death. Consciousness does not absolve your child from the danger of a deteriorating head injury. Allowing your child to sleep following a head injury may also be risky.
  2. Eating dog food off an oily garage floor: Dog food is harmless to a child. Ingesting a small amount of motor oil will at worst result in a stomachache. A trip to the emergency room is not necessary, but a call to poison control is, in the event your child may have ingested more than just dog food and motor oil.
  3. Hitting a fingernail with a hammer: Icing the finger for a duration of ten minutes three to four times and administering pain reliever should be sufficient. Nevertheless, taking your child to the doctor will not hurt and may be needed to relieve pressure underneath the fingernail.
  4. A two-day headache for a preteen that has progressed to vomiting, an earache, and decreased appetite: If this is your child’s first severe headache or the worse she or he has experienced, an emergency room visit is a must. It may be more than a migraine. Your child may have bleeding in the brain, meningitis, or thyroid disease.
  5. Possible third-degree burn: Due to risk of infection and scarring, the child should be taken to the emergency room or a pediatrician who is able to see the child immediately. Before leaving, a parent should be sure not to apply ice, but to place a clean, dry cloth over the burn.
  6. Groin injury from slipping on a wet floor: A parent should put ice in a wet washcloth and place on the injured area. Once the pain has subsided, help your child stretch the area. The child may be treated with anti-inflammatory medication from a doctor or physical therapy. A trip to the emergency room is not necessary unless the child has severe pain, a bruise, or blood.
  7. A preschool aged child stepping on a nail: A parent will not be able to tell how far the damage has gone into the foot. Treatment is best left to urgent care or the emergency room, which will address concerns of tetanus and infection.

In addition to knowing when to take a child to the emergency room, parents should also know when to call 911. A bone deformity, head injury, vomiting after an injury, and major laceration warrant a 911 call. Parents should further inform babysitters when a 911 call will be necessary.

Above all, however, parents should actively prevent the injuries that will land a child in the emergency room or necessitate a 911 call. Tips to prevent such injuries include:

  1. Covering electrical outlets with tamper proof caps.
  2. Making sure any flat-screen TVs are secured at their base or to the wall.
  3. Keeping knives and firearms away from a child’s grasp.
  4. Ensuring an up-to-date first aid kit is easily accessible to parents and babysitters.
  5. Debriefing yourself on first-aid techniques through manuals and/or educational classes.
  6. Checking all homes the child will be staying at for safety risks.
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