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Should you seek emergency or urgent care for your injured or sick child?

Should you seek emergency or urgent care for your injured or sick child?
Learn which kind of facility is best for your child’s condition.

Child in emergency room

On a Saturday afternoon, “Bethany” falls off her bicycle and hurts her knee. Jane’s mother rushes to the playground to check on her daughter and sees that the knee is quickly swelling.

Bethany says she can hardly move her knee. Her mom doesn’t think the knee is broken, but she can tell that it is injured.

What should Bethany’s mother do?

She can take her daughter to the emergency department or to an urgent care.

Which treatment option is best for Bethany?

The correct answer for the above scenario is the emergency department, but deciding which treatment option is best for their child is a struggle many parents face.

“If your child is having seizures, looses consciousness or has a serious head injury, then the emergency department is the right choice,” says Mark Schaffer, MD, a pediatrician at Dayton Children’s Soin Pediatric Trauma and Emergency Center.

“But if the child has a cold, minor infection or small laceration [cut], urgent care is a good place to go.”

Dr. Schaffer offers these guidelines for choosing between urgent and emergency care.

Go to urgent care for:

  • Colds, coughs, flu
  • Ear infections
  • Minor cuts or head injuries
  • Minor injuries
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Asthma with mild to moderate wheezing
  • When recommended by your child’s physician

Go to the emergency department for:

  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Difficulty breathing and/or respiratory distress
  • Fall from a height
  • Serious head injuries
  • Any loss of consciousness
  • Eye injuries
  • Injuries from a motor vehicle accident, as a pedestrian or passenger
  • Ingestion of harmful substances after calling the poison center at 1-800-222-1222
  • Obvious fractures or swollen, painful joints
  • Major lacerations
  • Acute infections
  • Significant pain
  • Seizures
  • Any symptom requiring prompt medical attention to prevent deterioration, disability or death
  • When recommended by your child’s physician

Dr. Schaffer reminds parents to call 911 if your child is not breathing, having trouble breathing, is seriously injured, is bleeding heavily, or has a life-threatening condition. Do not try to drive the child to the hospital yourself.
Parents also need to be prepared when coming to either the emergency department or the urgent care.

What should I bring with me?

  • Your insurance card
  • A list of your child’s medications, allergies and medical history. By putting this together ahead of time, there is no delay in an emergency. This is very important if your child has a chronic condition such as asthma or special needs.
  • Your child’s favorite toy, blanket or game. Depending on your child’s situation, there may be a wait.
  • Before leaving, parents should remember to check the hours at the urgent care center so that no time is wasted in driving your child to a closed facility.

“The most important concern, especially in a true emergency, is not the cost or the wait,” Dr. Schaffer says. “It’s making sure your child gets the necessary treatment when sick or injured.”

Provided by The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton

About The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton

The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton is the region’s pediatric referral center for 20 Ohio counties and eastern Indiana. At Dayton Children’s, there is a full-time dedication to caring for infants, children and teens. Specially trained and experienced pediatric specialists in over 35 specialty areas work as a team to make sure the medical and psychosocial needs of children and their families are met. We also have a number of community-based services as well.

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