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Emergency Medical Treatment

How do I know if my child needs emergency medical treatment?

It is rare for children to become seriously ill with no warning. Based on your child’s symptoms, you should usually contact your child’s pediatrician for advice. Timely treatment of symptoms can prevent an illness from getting worse or turning into an emergency.

A true emergency is when you believe a severe injury or illness is threatening your child’s life or may cause permanent harm. In these cases, a child needs emergency medical treatment immediately. Discuss with your child’s pediatrician in advance what you should do in case of a true emergency.


Many true emergencies involve sudden injuries. These injuries are often caused by the following:

  • Motor vehicle-related injuries (car crashes, pedestrian injuries), or other sudden impacts such as from bicycle-related injuries or falls from heights
  • Poisoning
  • Burns or smoke inhalation
  • Choking
  • "Nonfatal drowning" (once referred to as "near drowning") 
  • Firearms or other weapons
  • Electric shocks


Other true emergencies can result from either medical illnesses or injuries. Often you can tell that these emergencies are happening if you observe that your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Acting strangely or becoming more withdrawn and less alert
  • Increasing trouble with breathing
  • Skin or lips that look blue or purple (or gray for darker-skinned children)
  • A cut or bun that is large or deep
  • Bleeding that does not stop
  • Rhythmical jerking and loss of consciousness (a seizure)
  • Unconsciousness
  • Any change in level of consciousness, confusion, a bad headache, or vomiting several time after a head injury
  • Very loose or knocked-out teeth, or other major mouth or facial injuries
  • Increasing or severe persistent pain
  • Decreasing responsiveness when you talk to your child

Call your child’s pediatrician or the Poison Help Line (1-800-222-1222) at once if your child has swallowed a suspected poison or another person’s medication, even if your child has no signs or symptoms. You should not make your child vomit by any means, including giving him syrup of ipecac, making him gag, or giving him saltwater. If you have syrup of ipecac in your home, flush it down the toilet and throw away the container.

Always call for help if you are concerned that your child’s life may be in danger or your child is seriously hurt.

What To Do In An Emergency

  • Stay calm.
  • If it is needed and you know how, start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
  • If you need immediate help, call 911. If you do not have 911 service in your area, call your local emergency ambulance service or county emergency medical service. Otherwise, call your child’s pediatrician’s office and state clearly that you have an emergency.
  • If there is bleeding, apply continuous pressure to the site with a clean cloth.
  • If your child is having a seizure, place her on a carpeted floor with her head turned to the side, and stay with her child until help arrives.

After you arrive at the emergency department, make sure you tell the emergency staff the name of your child’s pediatrician, who can work closely with the emergency department and can provide them with additional information about your child. Bring any medication your child is taking and her immunization record with you to the hospital. Also bring any suspected poisons or other medications your child might have taken.

Important Emergency Phone Numbers

Keep the following phone numbers handy by taping them on or near your phone:

  • Your home phone and address
  • Your cell phone
  • A nearby relative's or trusted neighbor’s or friend's phone
  • Your child’s pediatrician
  • Emergency medical services (ambulance) (911 in most areas)
  • Police (911 in most areas)
  • Fire department (911 in most areas)
  • Poison Help Line (1-800-222-1222)
  • Hospital
  • Dentist

Information For Sitters

It is important that everyone who cares for your child, including child care providers and sitters, knows where to find emergency phone numbers. If you have 911 service in your area, make sure your older children and your sitter know to dial 911 in case of an emergency. Be certain that they know your home address and phone number, since an emergency operator will ask for this information. Always leave the phone address where you can be located, including your cell phone number. You should also make sure your sitter knows any medications your child takes and any allergies he may have. Those caring for your child (including you and your spouse) also should take a CPR class. 

Remember, for a medical emergency, always call 911 and/or child’s pediatrician. If your child is seriously ill or injured, it may be safer for your child to be transported by emergency medical services (an ambulance).

Last Updated
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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