Wellness Tips

Emergency care vs. urgent care for sick or injured kids

Check symptoms

When your child is sick or injured, knowing where best to seek care helps provide you better understanding of their health care needs, saves you time and helps your child get the care they need when they need it most. Kristin Avery, DO, pediatrician at MercyOne Clear Lake Pediatrics and Adolescent Care, breaks down which care location is best for your child based on the symptoms or injury.

Allergic reaction

Allergic reactions can be scary for parents and kids. While some allergic reactions don’t need emergency care, severe reactions can be life-threatening. Severe reactions include two or more symptoms including:

  • Hives.
  • Lip or tongue swelling.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Vomiting.


Many injuries are not life-threatening or need immediate medical care. However, you should see a doctor right away if your child shows:

  • Cuts or tears on the face.
  • Deep or large burn.
  • Dislocation of body part.
  • Head injury with loss of consciousness or vomiting.
  • Inability to move body part.
  • Numbness.
  • Severe pain.
  • Swollen, red and warm joint.


While vomiting or diarrhea usually are not dangerous, they can lead to dehydration which can be harmful. Signs of dehydration:

  • Decreased urination (Less than three wet diapers in 24 hours).
  • Lack of tears with crying.
  • Sunken fontanelle.
  • Dry mouth.

Distressed breathing

If your child is experiencing breathing problems, they will struggle getting enough oxygen into their lungs. Respiratory distress requires immediate care. Look for the following signs of respiratory distress including:

  • Fast and short breath.
  • Nasal flaring.
  • Head bobbing.
  • Sucking in between or under ribs.

Emergency health concerns for newborns

In older children, a fever does not require emergency care. But infants have unique needs when it comes to illness or injury. In babies 3 months or younger, a temperature of 100.4 F or greater requires immediate medical attention. Also, bulging soft spots on their body or head should be seen by a doctor right away.

When to visit your doctor’s office

Your child’s primary care provider, whether a pediatrician or family medicine provider, provides care and treatment for non-urgent issues. Your child’s primary care provider knows their medical history and your family’s health care personality.

Visit your child’s doctor for:

    • Acute and chronic abdominal pain
    • Behavioral health
    • Cold and flu symptoms
    • Constipation or diarrhea
    • Ear pain
    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Musculoskeletal pain or injury
    • Pink eye
    • Rashes, hives, abscess and superficial burn
    • Sore throat or strep throat
    • Urinary tract infection
    • Vomiting

MercyOne Primary Care location near you

When to visit urgent care

Urgent care is the right location when your child is experiencing any health concern where they need to be seen immediately, but it is not life-threatening. Urgent care has evening and weekend hours for when your child’s primary care provider may not be available.

    • Acute abdominal pain
    • Worsening headache
    • Cold and flu symptoms
    • Ear pain
    • Fever
    • Foreign object in ear/nose
    • Pink eye
    • Rashes, hives, abscess and superficial burn
    • Skin laceration
    • Sore throat and strep throat
    • Urinary tract infection
    • Vomiting or diarrhea

MercyOne Urgent Care locations

When to visit an emergency department

If your child has a serious injury or severe illness, it may require hospitalization. For any life-threatening emergency, call 911 immediately. Visit your nearest emergency department for:

  • Accidental chemical ingestion or overdose
  • Acute chest pain
  • Altered mental status
  • Blue around mouth, lips and tongue
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Forest green vomit
  • Prolonged migraine
  • Seizure and seizure-like activity
  • Suicidal ideation with plan
  • Swallowed foreign objects, especially button batteries
  • Testicular pain or swelling

“You know your child best,” says Dr. Avery. “If you feel something is off, seek attention and never stop advocating for your child.”

MercyOne Emergency Care locations

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