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Published on July 24, 2014

When to Visit a Pediatric Emergency Room

Nearly one out of every five patients who enter the ED is under the age of 18.

Nearly one out of every five patients who
enter the ED is under the age of 18.

Being a parent is a wonderful yet nerve-wracking experience. And as part of that experience, you learn that preparation (as well as the ability to stay on your toes) can be the key to everything. When something does go wrong—your son falls and bumps his head on the corner of a table or he comes down with a high fever—you need to have a game plan for what to do next.

For many parents, the first reaction is to call their child’s pediatrician. However, there are other instances when a medical condition might require a trip to the pediatric emergency room instead.

Why Go to a Pediatric Emergency Room

It’s important to remember that the way children are medically treated is dramatically different from adults. The equipment must be small, the atmosphere more soothing and inviting and the staff needs the expertise for handling these precious little people during emergency medical situations.

“Many of the problems encountered in an ER setting do not require the expertise of a doctor trained in Emergency Medicine, but are better treated by a doctor whose training focused on the medical care and treatment of children,” said Robert K. Noll, M.D., FAAP, medical director, Pediatric Hospitalists and Emergency Care at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “The old saying in medicine that ‘kids are not just small adults rings true.”

Aside from the differences in care, symptoms associated with certain conditions or injuries may be different in children than they are for adults, and you need a specialist who can accurately identify them.

In addition to their expertise in handling children, pediatric doctors have a special ability to understand kids, calm their fears and keep them and their parents happy. “Pediatricians are trained to care for the child in the context of their place in the family; concerned parents are (almost) as much the pediatrician’s focus as the child herself,” he added. Going to the doctor or the hospital can be a scary experience for a kid, and you want to make sure the experience goes as smoothly as possible.

According to Dr. Noll, Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, PA has the only dedicated pediatrics area in an emergency department in Delaware County. As a result, it’s important to note that not every county will have a pediatric emergency room. If there are no pediatric emergency rooms in your local area, any ER will do in an urgent medical situation.

When to Go

The general rule of thumb is to bring your child to the pediatric emergency room if you believe his or her condition is serious or life-threatening and requires immediate medical assistance.

The American Academy of Pediatrics breaks down emergency situations into two categories: injuries and illnesses.

Injuries that warrant a trip to the emergency room include car-related injuries or other sudden impacts, poisoning (be sure to call the Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222 first), burns or smoke inhalation, choking, nonfatal drowning, electric shocks, dog or animal bites, mouth, facial or head injuries or injuries related to firearms or weapons. You should also take note if your child is experiencing a bad headache, vomiting or confusion after a minor head injury.

Symptoms of illnesses to be wary of include withdrawn or strange behavior, difficulty breathing, skin or lips that look blue, purple or gray, a large/deep cut or burn, bleeding that doesn’t stop, seizure, unconsciousness or increasing or severe persistent pain.

“Illnesses or concerns that cannot wait until ‘tomorrow morning’ or ‘Monday morning’ when the pediatrician is available or that can’t be managed with home medications or when a child’s Asthma Action Plan requires immediate medical attention are instances when the emergency room is appropriate,” said Dr. Noll.

You should also go to the ER if your child is difficult to arouse, complains of chest pain with exercise, has a fast heartbeat or experiences incessant vomiting or diarrhea.

When to Call 9-1-1

Always call 9-1-1 so paramedics can help with urgent situations, such as choking, possible poisoning, head injury with passing out, injury to the neck or spine, severe burn, seizures that last three to five minutes, bleeding that can’t be stopped and if your child has stopped breathing.

When to Go to the Doctor

Medical conditions that are not considered life-threatening or that risk disability are the kind to bring to the pediatrician. These include common illnesses, such as a cold or rash and minor injuries, such as a sprain or minor broken bone.

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