3 Common Childhood Injuries: Should You Go To the ER?

mom looking at child's boo-boo
Jerri Rose, MD

It can be tough to know when your child's injury requires immediate emergency room treatment or a bandage and a hug. Here are three common health scares and the best ways to handle them.

The situation: Your toddler manages to get his hands on a nearby cup of tea, scalding himself.

How to handle it: As quickly as possible, run the burn under cold water. Do not use ice, butter or grease. Cover the burn with a clean gauze pad or sheet as long as it’s not oozing.

“If the burned skin is just red or there is only a small area of blistering, contact your pediatrician for next steps,” says pediatric emergency medicine physician Jerri A. Rose, MD.

“Head to the emergency room if there’s a large area of blistering; if the burn covers an area larger than the size of your child’s hand; or if burn involves the hand, foot, face or genitals, or crosses a joint,” she says.

Prevent it next time: Keep hot drinks on high surfaces away from the edge. Don’t leave food on the stove unattended, and turn pot handles inward so they can’t be reached and pulled down.

The situation: While working on an art project, your child decides that eating the paint is more fun than putting it on the paper.

How to handle it: If your child is struggling to breathe or appears lethargic, dial 9-1-1. Otherwise, call the Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

“This will connect you with a specially trained medical professional at your regional poison center, who can counsel you on whether the ingestion requires emergency department care and how to treat your child at home," Dr. Rose says. "These professionals can even contact emergency department staff to let them know your child is on the way if necessary.”

Prevent it next time: Stock nontoxic art supplies in your house, and don’t let kids eat or drink when using them. Keep them stored where kids can’t access them without adult supervision.

The situation: Your daughter’s tearing it up on the basketball court when she takes a sharp elbow to the head, causing a headache that doesn’t go away.

How to handle it: “A head injury that results in loss of consciousness, differences in pupil size, slurred speech, a persistent headache, repeated vomiting, confusion or unusual behavior should be checked out in the ER,” Dr. Rose says.

While these symptoms are usually apparent right after the injury, sometimes it can take symptoms hours to days to develop, so closely monitor your child at home, she says.

Prevent it next time: Explain to your child the importance of speaking up when something doesn’t seem right after a head injury. Your child's well-being is more important than staying in the game.

“If in doubt, call your child’s pediatrician for advice,” Dr. Rose says. “Dial 9-1-1 if your child isn’t breathing, is unconscious or having a seizure, or has been seriously injured in an event such as a car accident.”

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