Top 10 Reasons Kids Go to the ER

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Katie Lambert on November 10, 2020
  • Male doctor with young child
    Important Facts for Parents
    Kids fall down, bump into things, and pick up germs everywhere they go. Most of the time they turn out just fine, but as a parent, it's tough to know when it's time to head to the ER and when home care is enough. Trust your gut if something feels really wrong with your child. In case of emergency, do the best you can to keep your child relaxed and comfortable, and whenever possible, go to a children's emergency department with equipment sized for kids and doctors trained in pediatric medicine. In emergency rooms of all kinds, these are some of the most common reasons parents bring in their children for immediate care.
  • warm compress, compress, fever, child, sick, cold, home rememdy
    The top reason for ER visits for kids 15 and under is fever. Guidelines for what's considered cause for concern vary by age. For a newborn, a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is cause for alarm, while for a 3- to 24-month-old baby, the critical number is 102.2 degrees. For older children, there's no set number. Watch for signs of dehydration, like sunken eyes, dry lips and mouth, and a lack of urine. 
  • Emergency Phone Numbers
    When is it time to worry about a cough? Listen for a whooping or raspy sound when your child inhales, or a high-pitched, whistling sound when they exhale. In addition, if your child is having trouble breathing or swallowing, is vomiting, or has a high fever, seek emergency care. 
  • Child with stomach pain
    Abdominal Pain
    Is it gas... or appendicitis? Children who are old enough to talk may be able to describe their abdominal pain. Ask them to point to where it hurts. Does it hurt more when you press it or when you take your hand away? When abdominal pain is accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea, examine them for blood. (Note: Blood in vomit isn't red—it looks like coffee grounds.) The presence of blood or a belly that is rigid and hard to the touch can be signs of serious illness. 
  • A Sleepy Sign, child sleeping, sick, child, cold, flu, fever
    Vomit and kids seem to go together. Motion sickness, eating too much, a virus—any of these can result in a child emptying the contents of their stomach. Seek immediate medical attention for a child who is vomiting and also seems lethargic or confused. If vomiting is accompanied by a fever higher than 101 degrees, diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, severe headache, or stiff neck, go to the emergency department. 
  • Folliculitis On Child's Foot
    Skin Rash
    Some bumps, blotches and brightly colored patches of skin can be a mystery to the untrained eye. When fever accompanies a rash, it suggests an infection like scarlet fever or measles. These, and any painful or infected rashes, require a doctor's care. A sudden rash that spreads rapidly, covers the whole body, or is made of blisters may indicate a serious bloodborne infection like Strep Menigococcus, an allergy or medication reaction. If you notice this type of rash and any difficulty breathing, call 911 or take your child to the emergency room right away.
  • Boy During Ear Examination
    The anatomy of a child's ear is slightly different from an adult's, making it easier for fluid to get trapped where it shouldn't be. By the age three, 5 out of 6 kids will have experienced an ear infection. Be alert to fever, redness, and blood or pus draining from the ear. If pain seems to have come on suddenly, your child has severe pain, or the pain is ongoing over 48 hours, contact a doctor. 
  • doctor-examining-girl-with-tongue-depressor
    Throat Symptoms
    Kids often have a tough time describing their symptoms. Is their throat sore or scratchy? Do they feel like there's a lump, or is it swollen? An ordinary sore throat can be the result of any number of different illnesses, from strep to post-nasal drip. But if you notice your child is having difficulty swallowing, is drooling, or is experiencing voice changes, get medical help immediately. Throat symptoms can be a threat to your child's airway.
  • Making the handoff
    Head, Neck or Face Injury
    It's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to head and neck injuries. Kids' brains are still developing, so a head injury can have a lasting effect on cognitive development. Neck injuries carry the possibility of paralysis. If your child has lost consciousness (even for a very short time), isn't walking or talking normally, is having a hard time waking up, or vomits repeatedly after a head injury, get care from a medical professional ASAP. For neck injuries, check for loss of bowel or bladder control, weakness or numbness, or severe pain.
  • Teenager with black eye and bandage
    Facial Lacerations
    Cuts to the face are always significant because there's the potential for lasting damage. Even a comparatively small cut can leave a permanent scar. When is it time for stitches? If your child slips, trips, or otherwise manages to draw blood, note the depth of the wound, whether it's gaping open, and whether it's bleeding heavily. A laceration caused by an animal bite should always be examined by a doctor due to the risk of infection.
  • child under covers
    There is a misconception that kids don't get headaches unless there's a serious medical problem. In reality, tension headaches in kids are fairly common, as are headaches caused by conditions like respiratory and sinus infections. But not all headaches are benign. Neurological symptoms, such as confusion, vision problems, decreased alertness, slurred speech, or balance problems, can signal a potentially more serious issue. A headache that comes on suddenly and severely may also be a sign that something is awry.
Top 10 Reasons Kids Go to the ER

About The Author

  1. Abdominal pain - children under age 12. MedlinePlus.
  2. Aehlert, Barbara. Mosby's Comprehensive Pediatric Emergency Care, Revised Edition. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2007.
  3. Analysis of Patients with Facial Lacerations Repaired in the Emergency Room of a Provincial Hospital. Archives of Plastic Surgery.
  4. Brain Injury in Children. Brain Injury Association of America.
  5. Childhood Respiratory Infections and Other Illnesses. Cleveland Clinic.
  6. Cough and Cold Medicine - Not for Children. American Academy of Pediatrics.
  7. The Diagnosis and Management of Acute Otitis Media. American Academy of Pediatrics.
  8. Does Your Cut Need Stitches? Find Out How to Tell. Cleveland Clinic.
  9. Ear Infections in Children. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
  10. Earaches and Otitis Media. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.
  11. Headaches in Children and Adolescents: When Should a More Serious Problem be Suspected? Cleveland Clinic.
  12. How to Care for Your Child’s Croupy Cough. Cleveland Clinic.
  13. How to tell if a rash needs medical attention. American Academy of Dermatology.
  14. Nausea & vomiting. Cleveland Clinic.
  15. Overview of Emergency Department Visits in the United States, 2011. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project.
  16. Pediatric headaches. Cleveland Clinic.
  17. When your baby or infant has a fever. MedlinePlus.

Was this helpful?
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 10
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.