As a father of two young children, I understand that it’s only natural for us to be hypersensitive regarding our kids and their safety. As a doctor, I’m here to tell you that sometimes it’s OK to relax a little regarding their health. Sure, we love them more than anything in the world, but not everything is worth freaking out about. Even the healthiest kids get sick sometimes.
I always tell other parents that if something doesn’t feel right, it’s best to follow your intuition; don’t ever hesitate to call your child’s pediatrician for guidance. If your doctor isn’t able to speak with you at that moment, a nurse should be able to lead you in the right direction. Typically, a visit to your pediatrician or local urgent care is best for minor issues, such as earaches, skin rashes, sore throats, sinus pain, upset stomachs, colds, coughs, strains and sprains.
If you tried to reach your pediatrician and he or she is not available, or if you are away from home, here are some general guidelines for when you should head to the emergency room of your local hospital. A trip to the ER is a good idea if your child has recently experienced or is experiencing:
A high fever
Fevers are very common, but they are also a cause for concern for many parents. A fever can be a sign that something is very wrong, but most of the time, this is not the case. If you have a newborn less than three months of age, you should head to the emergency room if the baby is running a fever above 100.4 degrees. Between the ages of 3 months and 3 years, visit the emergency room if he or she has a temperature of about 102.2 degrees. For children older than 3 years of age, you should seek emergency treatment if he or she has a fever of 102 or higher for two days or longer. Also, if abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing or breathing, rash, a stiff neck, burning during urination or difficulty urinating, accompany the fever or if he or she can’t keep fluids down, you should head to the ER.
If none of these symptoms apply, you can probably just relax and let the fever run its course. Make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids and resting, and use acetaminophen and ibuprofen if necessary.
Difficulty breathing is one of the top reasons people go to the Emergency Room. If your child is experiencing difficulty breathing or severe shortness of breath, you should head to the Emergency Room immediately. If your child has a throat infection and suddenly has trouble breathing, swallowing and is drooling excessively, seek emergency treatment. This is most likely a sign of an inability to swallow.
If you have a hard time waking a baby to feed, or if an older child suddenly has difficulty waking up, this could be a cause for alarm.
Severe allergic reaction
Take your child to the emergency room if he or she is experiencing shortness of breath, lip/oral swelling, persistent vomiting and/or altered mental status.
A fall from a significant height
Sudden changes in vision, weakness or dizziness
Severe vomiting or diarrhea
Especially if blood is present in vomit or stool
Gaping wounds with edges that do not touch or connect
A red/purple rash that doesn’t disappear when you apply pressure to it with your fingertips
Coughing up blood
If you suspect your child has broken a bone, especially if a bone is pushing through the skin, head to the emergency room
A fast heartbeat that doesn’t slow down
A sudden loss of speech, sight or movement
Sometimes, driving to the emergency room yourself isn’t an option. Here’s when you need to call 911 for immediate assistance: severe difficulty breathing, injury to neck or spine, choking, child is not breathing or has turned blue, bleeding that cannot be stopped after applying direct pressure to the wound for 15 seconds, severe burn, child is unconscious and a seizure lasting more than five minutes.
Dr. David Greuner is the cofounder and head doctor of NYC Surgical Associates.