UK HealthCare

How to Know When It's Time to Take Your Child to the Emergency Room

Dr. Gena Cooper

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 9, 2019) — Many parents struggle with knowing when to bring their child to an emergency room for care. Sometimes reviewing common symptoms helps parents to be reminded of when they need a doctor’s evaluation and when they can care for their little one at home.

Fever is a frequently reason for a child’s visit to the ER. Doctors define a fever as a temperature higher than 100.8 degrees. The threshold for a doctor’s concern about fever will reduce as your child grows. Any fever in a baby younger than 30 days is concerning, and parents should bring their baby to the emergency room immediately. Babies older than 30 days but younger than six months should also be evaluated for fevers, but they could go to their doctor’s office or the emergency room. Children older than six months old may receive acetaminophen and ibuprofen and be watched at home, and parents can be in touch with their doctor.

Vomiting and diarrhea are symptoms that also worry parents; dehydration is a risk in young children. Be sure your child has had the rotavirus vaccine. It will prevent life-threatening diarrhea. For very young infants, vomiting and diarrhea may be a sign of something more than a typical gastrointestinal (GI) illness. They should come to the ER for testing and IV fluids. Older children have more fuel against dehydration due to a bigger body size, but they are still at risk. Doctors commonly use a medication called ondansetron to help stop nausea and vomiting. If belly pain comes with the vomiting and diarrhea, ask your doctor whether your child needs to be evaluated in the ER.

Cough is a frustrating symptom that keeps children and parents up at night. Cough comes with viral respiratory infections, pneumonia, and asthma attacks so it can sometimes be hard for parents to tell these illnesses apart. Most parents know their child needs breathing treatments for asthma. If your child has asthma and is coughing, try your home rescue medication, usually albuterol. In kids who do not have asthma, coughing is typically related to viral respiratory infections. At home you can try using a humidifier to keep your child’s air passages moist. Also try suctioning out the nose of infants and toddlers – this may dramatically reduce coughing. Unfortunately, cough medications rarely work. If these measures are not working or if you are worried that your child is struggling to breath, call your doctor or come to the ER for evaluation.

Good luck this winter as more fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, and cough start circulating in your community. Wash your hands and cover your cough because these are your best lines of defense against getting sick in the first place.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.