Five ways to know when your child needs emergency care

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Five ways to recognize when your child needs emergency care

Bumps and scrapes are part of growing up. Most can be treated at home with an ice pack and a kiss. But how do you know if a cut needs stitches or if an ankle is sprained or broken? When should you head to immediate care or the ER?

Urgent Care is for conditions that can’t wait until your primary care physician’s next available appointment in 24 hours or more. These non-life-threatening illnesses or injuries include lacerations, back pain, cough, headache or sinus or urinary tract infections.

If your child has any of the following symptoms, go to an HonorHealth children's emergency department at Scottsdale Shea or Deer Valley medical centers. Staffed by specially trained emergency physicians and nurses, these kid-friendly facilities are designed for younger patients. Mike Jonas, MD, medical director of pediatric emergency at HonorHealth Scottsdale Shea Medical Center, says to watch out for:

1.) High temperature:

A general rule is that if your child is less than 3 months old and has a fever of 100.4ºF or higher, get emergency medical care right away. If your child is between 3 months and 3 years of age, the number to watch for is 103ºF. For children over 3 years of age, the number is 104ºF.

If your child’s fever responds to over-the-counter fever reducer medications like Tylenol and he or she does not show any other symptoms, it’s OK to wait and see at home. If your child has fever and other symptoms — such as a sore throat, headache, ear ache, rash, vomiting or loss of consciousness — or if the fever doesn’t go down after taking Tylenol, go to an HonorHealth children’s emergency department. If your child is too young to talk or use sign language, inconsolable crying can mean that something hurts.

Learn more about HonorHealth's children's emergency departments:

2.) Dehydration:

It can be caused either by not drinking enough fluid or by losing too much through diarrhea or prolonged vomiting. Most children can have an occasional stomach bug and be OK, but dehydration can happen quickly and may be dangerous. Keep an eye out for: 

  • Dry, cracked lips.
  • Decreased or dark-colored urine.
  • Crying without tears.
  • Sunken eyes.
  • Sunken soft spot on your baby’s head.
  • Cold skin.
  • Low energy, drowsiness or weakness.

3.) Difficulty breathing:

A stuffy nose or congestion may be uncomfortable, but isn’t usually an emergency. Watch the color of your child’s face, especially the lips. In a respiratory emergency, the lips of children with fair skin may turn bluish. Children with darker skin tones may appear gray or ashy-white around the mouth. Lips of children with yellow undertones may turn grayish-green.

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you notice these color changes in your child, or if you see these symptoms:

  • Choking
  • Breathing very rapidly.
  • Wheezing or struggling to breathe.
  • Not breathing.

4.) Sudden changes in behavior or consciousness:

This doesn’t mean temper tantrums or power naps. Watch for the kinds of changes where your children are suddenly not themselves or not responsive when you try to awaken them. Be alert for the symptoms below after an injury such as a fall or a blow to the head. And don't ignore these symptoms if they occur without an obvious reason:

  • Stumbling or loss of balance.
  • Confusion or grogginess.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Inability to move or wake up.

5.) A significant injury:

This one seems obvious, but try telling that to teenagers who stubbornly insist that they can keep playing basketball with a dislocated finger. Don’t let them try to “walk it off.”  Head for the ER if they experience:

  • Broken bones.
  • Dislocated or separated joints.
  • Serious burns.
  • Deep cuts.
  • Bleeding that won’t stop.

In a life-threatening emergency, call 9-1-1.