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When to go to the emergency room

Whenever an illness or injury occurs, you need to decide how serious it is and how soon to get medical care. This will help you choose whether it is best to call your doctor, go to an urgent care center or go to an emergency department right away.

If you have a problem that is not life-threatening or leads to risk of disability, but you are concerned and you cannot see your doctor soon enough, go to an urgent care center. The kinds of problems an urgent care center can treat include:

  • Common illnesses, such as colds, the flu, earaches, sore throats, migraines, low-grade fevers, rashes, allergies, bladder or urinary tract infections, and eye infections.
  • Minor injuries, such as back pain, minor cuts and burns, minor broken bones, minor eye injuries, sprains, and strains.

Signs of an emergency

Generally, an emergency is a condition that may threaten an individual's life or cause impairment. If your medical problem is life-threatening, call 911 immediately and care will be provided at the nearest emergency room. However, ER visits should be reserved for true emergencies, such as life-threatening accidents or chest pain. A visit to the ER without an actual emergency can be costly and inefficient, and detract medical care from individuals who truly need emergency care.

Common situations needing emergency care:

  • Call 911 to have the emergency team come to you right away for choking, difficulty breathing, unconsciousness, severe head injury, severe injury to the neck or spine, seizures, severe burns, electric shock, etc.
  • Go to an emergency department or call 911 for help for problems such as chest pain or pressure, trouble breathing, fainting, poisoning or overdose, severe bleeding, loss of limb or severe broken bone, pain in the arm or jaw, sudden weakness or drooping on one side of the body, coughing or throwing up blood, severe allergic reaction with swelling or hives, suicidal thoughts, etc.

Prepare now

Before you have a medical problem, learn what your choices are. Check the website of your health insurance company. Put these telephone numbers in the memory of your phone:

  • Your doctor.
  • The closest emergency department.
  • Urgent care center.