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When to Call 911: 7 Emergencies in Children

It's every parent's nightmare: a medical emergency involving your child. Whether it's difficulty breathing or a fall at the park, knowing when to call 911 can help you cope quickly and efficiently with childhood emergencies and stay calm under pressure.

Here are some guidelines for 7 of the most common medical emergencies in children:

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1. Respiratory Distress

Respiratory distress refers to difficulty breathing and taking in enough oxygen. Causes may include choking, asthma, an infection, or pneumonia. The signs of respiratory distress are coughing, wheezing, labored breathing (especially flaring of the nose and use of chest and neck muscles to aid breathing), grunting, inability to talk, or turning blue.

When to Call 911:

  • The rate of breathing is greater than 50 to 60 breaths per minute.
  • The child is turning blue around the mouth.
  • The condition is worsening instead of improving.

If these signs are present, don't try to put your child in a car -- call an ambulance. The paramedics can deliver oxygen and get your child safely to the hospital.

2. Broken Bones

Broken bones are common childhood emergencies. While these injuries are usually not life-threatening, the child should be taken to a hospital or urgent care center for evaluation. Generally speaking, parents can drive kids with broken bones to the hospital themselves.

When to Call 911:

  • The break is so severe that you can't control the pain.
  • The bone is sticking out of the skin.
  • The accident involves trauma to the head or neck.
  • The accident has caused a state of altered consciousness.

3. Vomiting and/or Diarrhea

Vomiting and/or diarrhea can require emergency care if a child becomes dehydrated. If your child can't keep anything down or has severe diarrhea, watch for signs of dehydration such as sunken eyes, dry mucus membranes, and abnormally low amounts of urine. If any of these appear your child should be evaluated by the doctor

When to Call 911:

4. Febrile Seizures

In infants and toddlers, a rapid rise in temperature can cause a febrile seizure. Most seizures associated with fever end quickly and are not necessarily emergencies.  However, any child who is having new seizures should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. After a doctor has evaluated your child for seizures, any recurrent seizures should be reported by phone to the doctor to make sure nothing more serious is happening that would require further evaluation.

When to Call 911:

  • The seizure doesn't stop after three to five minutes.
  • The child has labored breathing or is turning blue.
  • Your child's normal mental state does not return after the seizure.

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