Your child loses consciousness or is not responsive.
Your child might have a neck or spine injury.
Your child has a head injury with a loss of consciousness, lasting vomiting, or
is not responding normally.
Your child has significant uncontrolled bleeding.
Your child has a possible poisoning and is not responding normally or is having
trouble breathing. In any possible poisoning,
call the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) for expert advice. They may direct
you to the ER.
Talk with your doctor about what to do — and which ER to go to — before you're
in a situation where you might need to visit one. Your doctor may direct you to an
ER that's close to you or one in a hospital where he or she regularly sees patients.
Should your child go to an ER at a children's hospital? Because they're dedicated
to caring for kids, children's hospitals probably have the most pediatric staff, specialists, and
facilities. So if it's an emergency and a children's hospital is conveniently located,
consider going there.
Otherwise, the community hospital nearest you will provide the medical care needed.
If for any reason the hospital isn't equipped to treat your child's specific condition,
the doctors there will arrange a transfer to a facility that is.
Preparing to Go to the ER
When you go to the ER, it's important to know the details of your child's current
when the problem began (the time of injury or how many days your child has been
the symptoms of the current illness or injury
treatments and medicines you have already tried
when your child last had anything to eat or drink
If you go to the ER because your child has ingested a particular medicine or household
product, bring the container of whatever was ingested. That will help the doctors
understand what kind of treatment is needed. If your child swallowed an object, bring
an example of that object, if possible.
It's also important to know your child's medical
history — allergies, past illnesses, injuries, surgeries, immunization history,
or chronic conditions. Consider writing it down so it's handy during the chaos of
an emergency. And keeping a written record readily available at home will let anyone
caring for your child — such as a babysitter or grandparent — provide it should your
child be taken to the ER.
To prepare a
medicines your child is taking
history of previous hospitalizations
any previous surgeries
relevant family history
You should know the name and number of your child's primary care provider. And
it's good to know the name and number of the pharmacy where you usually get your prescriptions
At any ER, except in the most serious emergencies, be prepared to wait. If you
have time before you go to the ER, consider bringing something to do while you wait,
such as a book, magazines, or bills to pay. You also may want to bring pen and paper
to write down any questions you have for the doctor. If your child is not too ill,
bring things for him or her to do as well, such as crayons, books, toys, and comforting
objects, like stuffed animals.
If you think there's a chance that your child might have to be admitted to the
hospital, you may want to grab a change of clothes and toothbrushes for you and your
Most ERs have some translation services or someone who can help translate. If you
do not speak English fluently, consider bringing along a family member or friend who
can help you translate.
What to Expect at the ER
There's no way to predict how long you'll have to wait to be seen at the ER. If
your child has a severe medical problem, be assured that the doctors will provide
whatever attention is needed right away.
Because doctors attend to the most severe injuries and illnesses first, there's
a good chance that if you are there with a minor injury, you'll have to wait longer.
Even if the waiting room is empty, you still may have to wait if the exam rooms are
filled or many doctors and nurses are attending to a particularly serious case.
If your child's condition becomes worse while you are waiting to see a doctor,
tell the medical staff.
Before offering any food or drink to your child, make sure to ask the medical staff
if it is OK. In some situations, your doctor would prefer your child has nothing to
eat or drink.
While you wait, there's a chance that you — and your child — may see some very
sick and injured people come into the ER. The sights and sounds of those who are seriously
hurt or sick can be frightening. So assure your child that the ER is the best place
for the hurt people to be and that this is where the doctors can help them feel better.
You might even give an example of a time when someone you know was injured and, as
scary as it was at the time, all was fine after the doctor's care.
Soon after arriving at the ER, your child probably will be seen by a nurse, who
will ask about symptoms, check vital signs, and make a quick assessment. This evaluation,
also called triage, will prioritize your child's medical needs based
on the severity of his or her condition.
You'll also go through a registration process where you'll be asked to sign consent
for treatment forms. And if you have health insurance, be sure to have your member
card with you.
When you're in the ER, try to write down important information that you hear, such
the names of the doctors
what they say about the illness or injury
any medicines or treatment they give your child
any directions for follow-up or care at home
If your child is discharged, make sure you understand the home care instructions
and ask questions if you don't.
A specialist might not be on-site if you go to the ER on the weekend or at night,
but if needed, one will be called in. If surgery is needed, a surgeon will be contacted.
Some hospitals have child
life specialists. They can help children cope with the stress of being
in the ER, help prepare them for procedures, and give them non-pharmacological pain
management techniques even at very young ages.
In many cases, the doctor who treats your child in the ER will contact your primary
care doctor afterward. If your child is admitted to the hospital, the emergency room
doctor will let your doctor know.
Some ERs provide written or computer-generated documentation of the visit and others
dictate and fax the report to the primary care doctor. Carry a copy of the papers
you receive when your child is discharged to share with your doctor.