ER, urgent care or 911?


August 24, 2015

Tips to tell the difference when your child needs care right now

It’s just past midnight and your daughter can’t sleep because of a high fever. You’ve given her medicine, but to no relief. Do you know if you should visit the ER, call 911 or visit the pediatrician tomorrow?

Experts at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt advise that you discuss with your child’s pediatrician, before a crisis occurs, what to do in an emergency. Use our guide as a start to prepare:


Call 911 when there is any life- or limb-threatening emergency, including:

  • Choking
  • Stopped breathing or someone is turning blue
  • Possible poisoning (instead of 911, call the Tennessee Poison Center at 800-222-1222)
  • Head injury with passing out, throwing up or abnormal behavior
  • High temperature with stiff neck
  • Neck or spine injury
  • Severe burn
  • Bleeding that can’t be stopped


Visit an emergency room or call 911 for problems such as:

  • Trouble breathing or passing out, fainting
  • Severe allergic reaction with trouble breathing, swelling, hives
  • High fever with headache and stiff neck
  • High fever that doesn’t get better with medicine
  • Suddenly hard to wake up, too sleepy, confused
  • Suddenly not able to speak, see, walk or move
  • Bleeding that does not stop after applying pressure for five minutes
  • Deep wound or serious burn
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • Possible broken bone, loss of movement
  • Body part near an injured bone is numb, tingling, weak, cold or pale
  • Unusual or bad headache or chest pain
  • Fast heartbeat that doesn’t slow down
  • Throwing up or loose stools that won’t stop
  • Signs of dehydration: mouth is dry, no tears, no wet diapers in 18 hours, soft spot in the skull is sunken
  • Suspected child sexual abuse


If your child’s problem is not life-threatening or risking disability, but you are concerned and can’t see your doctor soon enough, go to an urgent care clinic.

Visit an urgent care clinic for:

  • Common illnesses, such as colds, the flu, earaches, sore throats, minor headaches, low-grade fevers and limited rashes
  • Minor injuries, such as sprains, bruises, minor cuts and burns, minor broken bones or minor eye injuries
  • Foreign objects in ears and noses


Be prepared before a crisis strikes. Save these telephone numbers to your phone for quick access:

  • Your child’s doctor
  • Emergency department your child’s doctor recommends
  • Poison control center
  • Nurse telephone advice line
  • Urgent care clinic
  • Walk-in clinic


Sources: National Institutes of Health, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt


Locate a Vanderbilt Children’s After-Hours clinic near you.