When to Take Your Child to Urgent Care
Too many children with minor complaints end up in the emergency room. This can cause a backlog when it comes to treating true emergencies and can expose younger children to more germs and illnesses. A better course of action in many cases is to take your child to a walk-in clinic or urgent-care facility. The following will help you decide whether your child's condition is an emergency or just urgent.
As a general rule, suspected ear infections are best suited for urgent care. Signs of an ear infection, beyond pain, include tugging on the ear, a red and inflamed ear, fluid in or wax leaking from the ear, and a low fever. The only exception is if there is actual blood in the ear—in this case visit the emergency room.
Fever is another common complaint that is often misdiagnosed as an emergency. Low-grade fevers, which are those under 101 for babies and under 104 for older children, can often be treated at home or at urgent care. Call your doctor first before taking the child to a walk-in clinic. Higher fevers, or fevers accompanied by passing out, seizures, dehydration, or trouble breathing, are emergencies, and you need to take your child to the emergency room in these cases.
With luck, a sore throat is nothing more than a side effect of a mild cold or sinus drainage, but it can also indicate a strep infection. Fortunately, this is rarely an emergency. You will need to take your child to an urgent-care facility for a proper diagnosis, though. Strep must be treated with antibiotics promptly to ensure a full recovery, and that means a medical professional must perform a test to ensure the condition is strep first.
A single instance of vomiting or diarrhea doesn't usually require a visit to urgent care or an emergency room, unless you suspect that your child has imbibed something harmful; in this case go to the emergency room. If vomiting continues and is accompanied by dehydration or stomach pain, then go to the emergency room.
Major injuries, including broken bones and concussions, are best treated in an emergency-room setting. Most walk-in clinics simply don't have the equipment to take x-rays or set bones. Minor injuries, such as lacerations that may require stitches, are sometimes treated at urgent-care clinics. Call first, as some clinics may not perform stitches on younger children that may require sedation. Any gaping wound that is leading to major blood loss should also be treated as an emergency.
For more guidance, call your pediatrician or an urgent-care clinic.