When to Take A Child to the ER

Parents often wonder when their children should be taken to an emergency department.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that: “An emergency is when you believe a severe injury or illness is threatening your child’s health or may cause permanent harm.”

While there are a huge variety of emergency situations, there are certain rules of thumb that may help make this important decision a bit easier.

Head trauma that results in any loss of consciousness, confusion, or vomiting should be evaluated in the ED.

The same with any rhythmic jerking with loss of consciousness.

A change in mental status should also be evaluated, including bizarre behavior, unusual sleepiness, being hard (or impossible) to awaken, acting disoriented or confused.

Fever with a stiff neck should have ED evaluation. So should fever with a rash.

Shortness of breath and respiratory distress are emergencies. If the skin or the lips are gray, blue or purple, the child should be evaluated.

Severe dehydration warrants a trip to the ED. A rapid heart rate that will not slow down also does.

Emergency department evaluation should be sought for bleeding that does not stop after holding direct pressure for five minutes.

Large or deep cuts should also be evaluated, especially if they involve the head, chest or abdomen.

Large burns should be evaluated in an ED, especially if they involve the face, chest, groin, hands or feet.

Ingestion of a poison, ingestion of another’s medication or an overdose of a medication may warrant an ED evaluation.

Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) can be consulted as to whether or not a trip to the ED is necessary in a given ingestion situation.

There are a number of accidents that usually warrant an evaluation in the ED, including bicycle wrecks, car crashes, falls, smoke inhalation, choking, near drowning, firearm or other weapon injury and electric shock.


When faced with an emergency situation involving a child, it important to stay calm.

911 can be called if necessary. CPR can be done if needed, and pressure can be held on bleeding areas using a clean cloth.

A child involved should not be moved unless in immediate danger. A seizing child can be placed lying down with the head turned to one side.

Any ingested substance container should be taken to the ED with the child. The child should not be left alone if at all possible until emergency help is obtained.