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emergency department

Children's

Is This an Emergency?

Your child doesn’t feel well, but should you take him to the emergency department? Sometimes it’s hard to tell when a child requires urgent medical treatment or if the concern can wait.

Dr. Eric Jorge is a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Children’s of Alabama. He’s seen children come to the emergency department who could have been treated at home. “It’s always a good place to start if your child is sick or has a fever, to call your on-call pediatrician or nurse,” Dr. Jorge said. “They can help guide you as to whether it’s appropriate to seek care in the emergency department or not.”

You should always take your child to the emergency department in a true emergency. These signs include:

Go to Emergency Department for:
• serious injury
• persistent vomiting
• trouble breathing
• not drinking enough, not urinating enough
• unusual sleepiness or confusion
• a head injury with vomiting
• eye injury
• serious burns
• ingested poison or unknown substance

Call 911 if your child:
• isn’t breathing or is turning blue
• is unconscious after a fall
• is having a seizure
• has a serious allergic reaction
• has broken a bone that sticks out through the skin
• is choking
• has a large cut that is bleeding uncontrollably

A high fever can be scary for a parent to see, however, Dr. Jorge said it’s the body’s natural defense mechanism against infection. “Fever is not actually dangerous to children,” he said. “A fever can make you feel pretty bad, but even a fever up to 104 or 105 degrees Fahrenheit can be handled at home.” He recommends giving a child ibuprofen or acetaminophen to see if that brings the fever down. Dr. Jorge also said that most children who are diagnosed with COVID-19 do not require emergency care and can be treated at home.

Babies are the exception to these guidelines, Dr. Jorge said. “Fever in a baby under 2 months old is considered an emergency. If your newborn has a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, please seek care immediately.”
Dr. Jorge stresses the importance of every child having a pediatrician. Through an established relationship with a pediatrician, a child can receive better long-term care, and there is always someone on call 24-7 to help determine the best treatment for your child when you’re not sure if you need to take them to the emergency department.