Deeper Look: Common Child Emergencies, False Flags, and What to Do About Them
January 12, 2018
Almost everyone has a story that starts like this, “This one time, when I was a kid…” And ends like this, “…then my parents had to take me to the ER.” Kids can certainly be reckless, and parents get left to deal with the consequences. Most days this simply means picking up after they’ve thrown their dinner off their plate, but some days it can be worse. On some occasions, it means cleaning a deep cut with peroxide. On even rarer occasions, it means having to dial the three numbers no parent ever wants to dial: 911.
Unfortunately, knowing when your child needs medical attention can be difficult. It’s normally best to play it safe: if you think they need medical attention, not much ill can come of seeking it. There are a few common scenarios where that attention isn’t needed though, and some scenarios where medical attention can be more important than it seems. When should you be bringing your child to the urgent care center?
Problems at the Playground
One of the most common places that children get hurt is on the playground, or at least outside. Children aren’t very graceful, and putting them together anywhere will mean play. It’s easy for mistakes to be made, and for a child to walk away with some scrapes and bruises. However, worse can happen. Luckily, in very few scenarios will your child be put at serious risk.
We All Fall Down
Falling is a everyday occurrence for kids. Their step is awkward, and they’ve just recently learned to walk. Whether it’s tripping over a shoelace or running into a coffee table, almost all children find a way to end up face first on the ground during their lifetime. For a child less than a year old, any time they’ve suffered a head injury is an absolute emergency. If they’ve knocked their head off of a cabinet and it begins to swell, serious damage could be done. For any child older than that, you’ll have to watch them carefully over the next few hours. If they can’t get up, develop a limp, or start to act abnormally, it’s time to call a doctor.
A fall can sometimes lead to a bloody tongue, which is a false flag in many cases. Your initial reaction to a child biting their tongue should rarely be to seek medical attention. Instead, wet a washcloth and use it to apply direct pressure to the tongue. If swelling and bleeding don’t go down after 10 to 15 minutes, you should seek medical attention, but only in that case.
How do you know when a child has broken their bone? A broken bone is always an emergency, but doesn’t always require an ambulance. If, after a fall or other incident, a child refuses to, or cannot, move an injured area, their bone is likely broken. In this case, you can take them to a doctor yourself. In the meantime, try to apply some pressure with a splint, and keep the bone elevated and iced. Never try to straighten the bone. It is correct to call an ambulance in these cases: if the bone has broken skin, the bone is bleeding heavily, the bone is numb, white, or blue, or there is deformity. You should also call an ambulance if the broken bone is abnormal: broken arms, fingers, toes, and calves are common. Broken thighs, tailbones, and almost any other bone can lead to very serious issues.
Similar to broken bones, a child’s teeth get broken often. In this case, it is only correct to call an ambulance in one situation: you don’t know the number of a dentist. In this scenario, you will almost always be recommended to a dentist when you arrive at an emergency care facility, so it’s best to just go there first. In the meantime, make sure your child doesn’t accidentally inhale parts of their tooth.
If a child falls unconscious for any reason, call an ambulance immediately. Even if they’re only out for a brief period of time, the potential for serious injury remains. If they report a headache, being tired, or dizziness, it is possible they have sustained a concussion.
“Charlie Bit My Finger!”
Sometimes kids do things that are difficult to understand: biting each other is often one of them. If another child bites yours and breaks their skin, there isn’t likely a need for an emergency call. Instead, you should get a hold of your pediatrician. They will be able to investigate the bite, and will advise you to seek urgent care if it’s necessary. Many of these cases lead to no long term problems, but they are always worth checking out.
If your child is stung by a bee, you only need to call an ambulance if they are allergic, or you suspect they might be. Even if it’s their first time being bitten, you should watch for signs of anaphylactic shock before calling an ambulance. Anaphylactic shock is another common reason that people of all ages end up in the ER, and we’ll be talking about it in depth soon.
In the Mouths of Babes
Children love to explore the world orally. My little brother once chewed the bark off of a tree branch, essentially whittling it with his teeth. When children eat or imbibe something they shouldn’t, it can certainly lead to a scare.
“Don’t Eat That!”
If you find your child eating or drinking something they shouldn’t, you’ll likely know when it deserves medical attention. If they’ve swallowed an entire bottle of shampoo or eaten a handful of potpourri, they require immediate medical attention. Some cases aren’t so cut and dry, though. If you aren’t sure if something will be a problem, Google is the place to be. You should be aware, generally, of what is and isn’t poisonous. You can also keep an eye out for signs like dizziness, nausea, and other abnormalities.
More than Milk Drunk?
If your child has found some alcohol, call a doctor immediately. As you’d expect, a child can get alcohol poisoning much easier than an adult can. This isn’t the only possible issue, though. Children can also experience vomiting, choking, or (in the worst case scenario) a severe drop in blood sugar level. This drop can be fatal. Don’t fear admitting your mistake — doctors and the law both understand that accidents happen.
In Some Hot Water
Another scary incident can happen when a child doesn’t understand when you tell them, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot.” Inevitably a child will touch a pan, or pour hot cocoa on their lap. When burns like this occur, call an ambulance if the burns cover a large part of the body, or are on sensitive areas such as their hands, feet or genitals. You should also call a doctor if you suspect the burns sustained are third degree. A burn is likely to be third degree if the affected area becomes numb, boils, or changes color.
If none of these things are true, you can treat the burn at home. It’s important not to use home remedies. Many old wives’ tales about treating burns are just that: old wives’ tales. Especially oil and butter: they will only trap heat in. Instead, remove whatever caused the burn as quickly as possible, preferably with use of cold water. After words, burn creams will help to soothe the pain.
Beyond incidents, children are often brought to the emergency room because of disorders, whether they be of the skin, respiratory system, digestive system, musculoskeletal, or mental. Asthma is the most common respiratory disorder, and always an emergency. If you suspect your child is having an asthma attack, call an ambulance even if you are equipped to deal with it. For the rest, you will have to make a judgement call. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when you believe something may be affecting your child’s health. After you’ve become a more experienced parent, it will be easy to tell a rash from a lesion, but a second opinion won’t hurt.
The best way to prevent and handle these unfortunate incidents is to be on top of your child’s health. You don’t need to come check before they flush every time they use the bathroom, but do check in. It will help if your child is aware of their health and what may be a concern. You should communicate with your child about their health, but they’ll likely let you know if something is wrong.
Trust Your Gut
Generally speaking, you’ll know an emergency when you see one. Do remember that blood and open cuts can be a sign of a problem, but often times they are just a natural part of growing up — bruise is often just a bruise. But also remember that it’s always okay to seek medical attention for your child: the worst case scenario is you get sent home feeling better about the injury, and the best case scenario is sparing your child a lot of pain. Here at Rapid Med, we’re always happy to help our patients with even the smallest of issues.