Taking care of a child is a rewarding but sometimes terrifying experience. Children can seem so delicate, and of course we want to give them the best care possible. When a child is unwell, it may be the first instinct to take that child to the ER for immediate treatment. Though not always the best course, these are the six most common reasons a triage nurse may tell you to take a child in for emergency care.
Cough is a common symptom for many diseases and conditions. In cases of flu or cold, coughing symptoms may not necessitate a trip to the emergency room, but other underlying causes, such as asthma, croup, and airway obstruction, are the most common reasons a triage nurse will send a child with a cough in for emergency care. Other auditory cues like wheezing, gasping, rapid breathing, or stridor are a cause to seek help immediately, especially if they are accompanied by more drastic problems: lethargy or confusion caused by dehydration; the inability to urinate; or dry or blue-tinted lips, mouth, or skin.
While fever is an indication that the body’s immune system is fighting off infection as it is designed to do, a child’s body is especially susceptible to the damaging effects of elevated body temperature. Any temperature 100.4° F or higher is considered fever, and any child younger than 2 months old with such numbers should be taken to the emergency room. If the child received vaccinations prior to the fever and is otherwise acting normally, call the child’s physician or a triage operator to ascertain their suggested course of action.
If a child’s fever reads greater than 105° F, take that child to the ER at once. High fever can result in other serious complications, such as hallucinations, severe dehydration, and fever-induced seizure.
Vomiting with Diarrhea
Failure of the digestive system on either end may always indicate more serious problems, and when both ends are affected, the likelihood of danger is doubly great. Vomiting accompanied by diarrhea may indicate a stomach virus, food poisoning, etc. and can lead to dehydration. A triage nurse will instruct you to take your young child to the ER if they present these symptoms: blood or bile in the vomit, constant severe abdominal pain, disorientation or confusion, difficulty waking up, or signs of dehydration.
Wheezing is a common side effect of asthma, but if your child has not been diagnosed with asthma, the other predominant culprit before the age of two is bronchiolitis, a viral infection of the bronchioles (the smallest airways in the lungs). The first thing you should do when your infant is wheezing is to clean out the nose. You will be directed to take your child to the ER if cleaning does not improve their breathing or if their breathing is rapid or if you can hear their wheezing severely across a room. Emergency care will also be recommended if your child is at high risk due to a weak immune system or other serious conditions.
Head injuries fall into one of two categories: visible or nonvisible. Both can be sufficient reason to take your child to the ER. Visible injuries to the head include broken bone, suspected broken bone, or dents in the skull. Head injuries can appear worse than they truly are because the scalp has a large blood supply, making them bruise quickly. However, skull fractures, though much more rare in children, can prove more problematic in younger bodies.
If your child experiences head trauma, a thorough examination is vital to ensure that damage is not worse than it initially appears. Nonvisible head injuries can result in altered mental status—difficulty focusing, confusion, slow responses—and more insidious problems that do not manifest until later in life. A triage nurse will advocate emergency care if a child experiences a severe fall or is impacted by a rapidly moving or falling object, especially if that child is under three months old.
Seizures are often indicative of other underlying problems, all of them severe. Seizures are often accompanied by a confused mental state and signs of dehydration, which in and of itself can lead to shock caused by low blood volumes, kidney failure, coma, or even death. Go to the ER immediately if your child experiences unexpected seizures.
When your child’s health is compromised, the first impulse is often to take that child to the ER. Sometimes a visit to the emergency room is the warranted action, but in other instances, urgent care is able to provide the correct care without the necessity of filling up emergency rooms. A telephone triage operator will be able to help you determine the best course of action for the care of your child’s medical attention.