When should I take my child to the hospital?

A pediatrician answers the often-asked question of when to seek care at a children’s hospital for illness or injury, and when it’s OK to wait to see your pediatrician.

You’re not alone if you’ve wondered “When should I take my child to the hospital?” after your child has experienced an illness or injury. Having that kind of doubt is OK; no parent likes to see their child ill or hurt. It’s important for new and even veteran parents to know when to call 911, when to call your pediatrician and when it’s time to take your child to the hospital.

“When a child is upset or not acting like themselves, it can be very scary for parents,” said Justin M. Morgan, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Brownsboro. “Knowing when to call your pediatrician, when to go to the hospital and when to call 911 is crucial information for parents. It can help you get your child the right level of care that they need quickly when your emotions may be running high.”

When to call 911

There are situations where parents should dial 911 so they can get care immediately from emergency medical responders before going to the emergency department. Parents should dial 911 for symptoms and issues including:

  • Bleeding that cannot be stopped
  • Child not breathing or has turned blue
  • Loss of consciousness or child nonresponsive
  • Choking
  • Head injury and child is unconscious/not responding, has continued vomiting
  • Injury to the neck or spine
  • Seizure lasting more than five minutes
  • Severe difficulty breathing
  • Severe burns

“It’s important to call 911 for these medical emergencies because transport teams have specialized training that can help your child on the road and can communicate directly to the hospital so the team is ready to receive your child,” Dr. Morgan said. “It’s safer for your child because the transport team can clear traffic and get your child to the hospital quicker than you could on your own.”

Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine

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When to go to the hospital

Having a good relationship with your child’s pediatrician is important for moments when you may not know what to do about an illness or injury. You should feel comfortable to call your pediatrician day or night if you have any questions, especially if you’re unsure if you should go to the hospital or be seen by your pediatrician.

“Parents who have doubts about what to do in certain situations should call their pediatrician,” Dr. Morgan said. “We can help guide you, as not every situation warrants a trip to the hospital.”

According to Dr. Morgan, there are certain issues for which parents should seek care for their child at a children’s hospital emergency department.

“There are times where you need that immediate pediatric specialty care, but it’s still safe for parents to drive or escort their child to the hospital,” Dr. Morgan said.

You should take your child to an emergency department for issues such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Body part that is numb, tingling, weak, cold or pale near an injured bone
  • Broken bone that’s outside the skin
  • Coughing or vomiting up blood
  • Deep cuts or wounds
  • Fast heartbeat that isn’t slowing down
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Fever with headache and stiff neck
  • Rectal temperature 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in babies less than 2 months old
  • Serious burns
  • Severe allergic reaction with symptoms such as shortness of breath, lip swelling, persistent vomiting, altered mental state (feeling “out of it”)
  • Sudden loss of sight, speech or movement
  • Sudden difficulty waking child up
  • Vomiting with dry mouth, no tears when crying, no urination in more than eight hours or acting very sleepy or “out of it”

When to call your pediatrician

Many pediatrician offices are equipped to handle any question you many have, day or night. Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, has an after-hours phone line available for current patient families to get their questions answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our licensed nurses answering the phone can guide parents to the correct care, day or night. They can help families with managing symptoms, whether you need to come into the pediatrician’s office or go straight to the emergency department. You can call or go to your child’s pediatrician’s office for issues such as:

  • Minor animal bites
  • Bladder or urinary tract infections
  • Minor bumps on the head
  • Cough, sore throat and colds
  • Earache
  • Minor cuts and scrapes
  • Nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea and vomiting
  • Skin issues such as rashes
  • Sprains and strains