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Five toddler emergencies

Your house might be child-proofed and you might watch your little one like a hawk but accidents (and illnesses) can happen.

If it’s serious you will need the help of a medical professional but just how do you know when your toddler needs to be taken to hospital?

When I gave birth to a boy I knew there would come a time when we’d be sitting in the waiting room of our local emergency department. I didn’t expect it to happen before my son hit the age of two but at nine months old there we were getting his eyebrow stitched up after an unfortunate meeting with the coffee table.

Luckily for me I married a doctor and an emergency specialist at that. He’s come in handy quelling fears, treating rashes and generally just being a great go-to guy when our toddler has been in the middle of a health crisis. Because when your child is screaming, blood is flowing and you’re in tears it can be hard to tell if you need to rush your child to the hospital or simply slap on a bandaid.

So today my go-to guy is yours — here to tell you about five common toddler emergencies and how you can manage them.


A fall

Toddlers aren’t known for their grace and coordination. Chances are you’ve watched your toddler topple over multiple times during the course of their short life but a big fall that results in a large lump or bruise may have you in a panic.

“Most toddlers who have sustained a head injury are fine,” says Dr Snaith. “It can be scary to see your child have a fall but it is uncommon to have a serious injury after a simple fall.”

There are, of course, exceptions. “Children under a year old who have experienced head trauma should always be seen by a physician because injuries are harder to detect,” explains Dr Snaith. “Other signs of a potential serious injury that warrants a trip to the emergency room is if your child is vomitting, drowsy, has a persistent headache or nausea or is acting out of the ordinary.”



Watching your child choke is the stuff of nightmares. Generally, a good cough is enough to expel the culprit but if the object has made its way past the epiglottis it can cut off the airway completely. This is a medical emergency.

“Toddlers are at risk from choking on food and small items such as beads, plastic lids or anything that could easily lodge in their airway,” says Dr Snaith. “If your toddler starts to choke they will most likely cough to try and expel the object. If this fails, you will notice your toddler start to panic and experience breathing difficulties. You may notice high pitched, noisy breathing or no breathing at all and the skin around your child’s mouth may begin to turn blue.”

If your child is choking the first thing you should do is encourage them to cough, says Dr Snaith. “If they fail to cough up the object it is time to administer first aid. Place your child over your knee so their head is hanging down and slap them firmly four times between the shoulder blades. If the object has not fallen out repeat the procedure and call an ambulance.”

If your child loses consciousness or stops breathing, you need to be prepared to perform CPR while waiting for an ambulance.

Want to be prepared for an emergency? Here are the safety certifications all mums should have >>


An allergic reaction

Food allergies are on the rise so when you start to introduce solids it’s important you take note of any adverse reactions.

“Severe allergic reactions are life-threatening situations that need immediate medical attention,” says Dr Snaith. “Your child’s airway can close up within minutes so if you notice that your toddler seems to be having trouble breathing, has swelling of the face or lips or develops a widespread rash after eating you need to call an ambulance.”

Less severe reactions such as sleepiness or simple rashes that develop after eating a certain food can be managed by your paediatrician or local GP.



It’s fairly obvious that if you think your child has drowned you need to call an ambulance and get them to the hospital as soon as possible.

“The best way to avoid drowning is through prevention — ensuring a safe environment, teaching your kids how to swim at an early age and always watching your child while he or she is in the bath,” says Dr Snaith.

“Drowning in toddlers is a condition that develops as a result of water entering the lungs,” explains Dr Snaith. “The water creates a lack of oxygen in the lungs, suffocating your child.”

“Your toddler may be suffering from drowning if they are experiencing excessive coughing, a difficulty in breathing, are complaining of chest pain or are showing unusual signs of fatigue and exhaustion. If your child loses consciousness or is not breathing you need to call an ambulance immediately and be prepared to perform CPR until it arrives.”

Here’s how to teach your child to be safe in the water >>


An unusual rash

A toddler with a rash is one of the most common sights in an emergency department but most skin rashes aren’t dangerous. They might look bad but, generally speaking, they are something that can be managed by your GP or paediatrician during business hours.

However, there are always exceptions. “Rashes associated with fevers or rashes that are flat, purplish and non-blanching can be a sign of a serious infection or bleeding disorder that needs to be investigated at your emergency department,” says Dr Snaith.

While toddlers are built to survive inept parents and are more resilient than you think, if in doubt there is no harm in seeing a doctor or taking a trip to the emergency department.

“We’d prefer to see a dozen well kids than miss seeing one really sick one,” says Dr Snaith. “If you’re worried, listen to your gut and trust your instincts,” he says.

More health tips for toddlers

How to raise a healthy, active toddler
Healthy eating for your toddler
Colourful recipes your kids will love

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