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How to Know When to Take a Child to the Emergency Room

Figure out whether you're overreacting or experiencing a genuine medical emergency with these guidelines.


  • Step 1: Call your doctor for advice if your child has neck stiffness or a rash with a fever. These could be signs of meningitis, a potentially life-threatening infection.
  • TIP: Make sure your child has had their vaccinations against meningitis.
  • Step 2: Call 911 if your child gets a head injury that's accompanied by unconsciousness, vomiting, unresponsiveness, confusion, or weakness in the limbs.
  • Step 3: A stomach ache is usually no cause for alarm. But if their stomach is swollen and tender to the touch, there's blood in their stool, and they're vomiting, visit the E.R.: They may have an intestinal blockage. If the pain is severe and concentrated on the lower right side of their abdomen, it could be appendicitis.
  • TIP: If you suspect appendicitis, don't give them aspirin, which can make the condition worse.
  • Step 4: Call your doctor if your child has been vomiting longer than 12 hours, their vomit is bloody, or if it's accompanied by a swollen abdomen, severe abdominal pain, lethargy, irritability, infrequent urination, or the inability to keep liquids down. You doctor can advise you if it's an emergency situation.
  • Step 5: Handle minor burns at home. Call 911 if it's a chemical burn; a major burn to the hands, face, or genitals; looks like an open sore; or is larger than your child's palm.
  • Step 6: If your child shows signs of a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling of the upper body or face that causes the throat to swell, restricting breathing, call for an ambulance immediately.
  • FACT: More than 24,000 children were treated in emergency rooms for head and neck injuries associated with shopping carts in 2005.

You Will Need

  • Monitoring of symptoms

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