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How do I know if my child needs emergency medical care?

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If your child breaks a bone, you’ll likely make a mad dash to the local emergency room – no questions asked. But it’s a bit murkier when you’re dealing with a stubborn fever or lingering headache.

At what point is a trip to the ER in order? Based on symptoms, you should contact your pediatrician for advice because timely treatment can prevent an illness from worsening or turning into an emergency, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Here are situations that require urgent medical attention:


  • Motor vehicle or bicycle accidents
  • Falls from heights
  • Poisoning (Call help line at 800-222-1222)
  • Burns or smoke inhalation
  • Choking
  • Non-fatal drowning 
  • Firearms or other weapons
  • Electric shocks

Symptoms from illness

  • Abnormal behavior or withdrawn and less alert
  • Trouble breathing
  • Blue or purple skin or lips; gray on darker skin
  • A large or deep cut or burn
  • Persistent bleeding
  • Rhythmical jerking and loss of consciousness, signaling a seizure
  • Unconsciousness
  • Confusion, change in consciousness, headache or vomiting after a head injury
  • Loose or knocked-out teeth, or severe mouth or facial injuries
  • Increasing or severe persistent pain
  • Decreasing responsiveness

What to do in an emergency

• Stay calm.

• If CPR is needed, administer it while someone else calls 911. If alone, administer CPR for two minutes before calling 911.

• If bleeding, apply continuous pressure to the wound with a clean cloth.

• If a seizure, place your child on a carpet and turn head to the side until help arrives.

For sitters

Anyone who cares for your child should know CPR and have the following information handy to call 911:

• Your home address

• Your phone number

• A list of your child’s medications

• A list of your child’s allergies

 (Visit redcross.org to find CPR classes in your area.) 


• healthychildren.org
• American Red Cross


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