Primary care, ER or Urgent Care: Know where to go when your child is sick

Your child's primary care provider should always be your first step when your child is sick. But we know that, sometimes, you can't wait to see their doctor and you've got to quickly decide where to take your child—urgent care or the emergency department (ED).

If you believe your child needs immediate attention and you have concerns for a life-threatening emergency, call 911.

Here are some tips to help you choose the best place to go when your child is sick:

When to call for a primary care visit

Your child's doctor can help you treat and manage some illnesses right at home, or they're able to see you for a same-day appointment—in-person or virtually. Call you child's doctor if they are experiencing:

  • Allergic reactions (mild)
  • Colds
  • Colic
  • Constipation
  • Cough
  • Dizziness
  • Earache
  • Fever
  • Insect bite
  • Mild stomach pain
  • Minor animal bites
  • Minor burns
  • Minor head injury
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Vomiting

After you talk with your child's pediatrician or primary care provider, they may refer you to a follow-up visit, a telemedicine appointment or suggest you take your child to the emergency department (ED). No matter the next steps, they'll be able to help you know what to do.

When to take your child to urgent care

An urgent care center can help you treat your child if their doctor's office is closed and you can't reach them for advice.

Reasons to take your child to urgent care include:

  • Asthma (mild)
  • Coughs
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Earache
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Minor allergic reactions
  • Minor broken bones or fractures (with no bone sticking out)
  • Minor head injuries (your child is acting normally and not vomiting)
  • Minor cuts and scrapes
  • Minor rashes
  • Sore throat
  • Pink eye/conjunctivitis
  • Removal of ticks, splinters, hooks and other sharp objects
  • Skin abscesses (small pockets of pus that are usually caused by infection)
  • Sports injuries
  • Sprains and strains
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting
  • If your child swallowed something but isn't having difficulty breathing

Main Line Health urgent care centers are located at Broomall and Exton Square. Our urgent care facilities are all staffed with board-certified providers. They're well equipped to determine if your child is too ill for urgent care, in which case they will stabilize them and send them to an emergency department immediately. 

When to take your child to the emergency department (ED)

Always take your child to the ED for serious and life-threatening injuries or illnesses that require immediate attention, which can include:

  • Allergic reactions (severe/anaphylaxis)
  • Blunt or penetrating eye injury
  • Broken bone
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • Deep cut or open wound
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever in infants younger than 2 months
  • Large or very painful burns
  • Seizures
  • Severe head injuries
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Unconsciousness
  • Any life-threatening injury or illness requiring immediate attention

A dedicated pediatric emergency department and inpatient unit is located at Bryn Mawr Hospital. Emergency departments are also located at Lankenau Medical Center, Paoli Hospital and Riddle Hospital

If a child under the age of 18 may have experienced acute sexual abuse or neglect, may be suicidal, homicidal or felt to be a threat to themselves or others, they should be taken to the emergency department.

If your child has swallowed something and has difficulty breathing, you should call 911 immediately.

If your child has ingested something you believe is dangerous, call Poison Control first. They can direct you where to go and might be able to alert the urgent care facility or emergency room of your arrival. Call poison control at 1.800.222.1222.