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Published on September 03, 2019

How Serious Is it? When to Avoid the ER and When to Go

Knowing when to go to the emergency room and when to head to an urgent care clinic can save you both time and money.

In fact, it’s estimated that 13 – 27 percent of all emergency room visits could be treated elsewhere with potential cost savings of $4.4 billion every year.

When you’re faced with the decision of where to seek care, it’s best to be prepared so you’re not panicked in a crisis.

The most common issues that don’t need emergency room treatment? Minor cuts, strains, fractures and symptoms of cold or flu can often wait to be addressed at a primary care or urgent care clinic. Other things that you should avoid heading to the ER for: ear infections, minor allergic reactions, toothaches, back pain and minor headache.

“The important question to ask yourself is, can it wait until tomorrow?” said Jared Friedman, MD, Avera Medical Group emergency medicine physician. “If you or your child gets a bad ear infection overnight you can often use some ibuprofen or Tylenol to help with pain and wait until the next day to see your primary care physician.”

Remember, everyone is different, Friedman cautioned. For most people, a bee sting will cause a minor skin irritation, but if you’re allergic you might go into anaphylactic shock — then you need immediate attention at an ER.

General guidelines to follow

When to visit an ER with your infant:

  • Fever — Contact your on-call nurse or doctor to discuss the best options. Typically, a fever of 100.3 degrees or higher for infants under 3 months, or 105 degrees or higher for babies 3 months and older after Tylenol or ibuprofen is taken can be worrisome.
  • Trouble breathing
  • Blue appearance to the skin, or pale or yellow skin
  • Having trouble waking up
  • Changes in muscle tone
  • Seizures

When to take your child to the ER:

  • A fever and stiff neck, dehydration
  • Trouble breathing
  • Nostrils moving outward when breathing in
  • Visible ribs or collarbone when breathing in
  • Broken bone; open wound; or numb, tingling feeling
  • Ingested a toxic chemical
  • Took medication not prescribed to the child

When to seek care as an adult:

  • Signs of heart attack
  • Pressure, squeezing in the chest
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Pain in arms, back, neck, jaw
  • Signs of stroke
  • Sudden weakness or numbness
  • Sudden dimness or loss of vision
  • Slurred speech, trouble talking
  • Severe headache
  • Unexplained dizziness
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Poisoning
  • Sudden and severe pain
  • Major injury or head trauma
  • Severe allergic reaction

If you’re still unsure, you can talk with a registered nurse at Avera Medical Call Center by calling 877-282-8372.

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