⚠ COVID-19 INFORMATION: Resources, Vaccine Information

When to Take Your Child to the Pediatrician, Immediate Care or ER

September 16, 2021

When a child is sick, especially in the late hours of the night, parents and caregivers must quickly make a choice: Where should they turn for medical care?  

Call Your Pediatrician

A great place to start is by calling your pediatrician or primary care provider. Many practices offer an after-hours “parent pager” that can help you decide whether your child’s symptoms warrant a trip to your pediatrician, an immediate care facility or the emergency room.

When the on-call provider returns your page, it is helpful if you can describe your concerns and how your child looks to you (Are they playful and active? Hard to wake up? Having difficulty breathing?), your child’s medical history and any medications they are taking, and if your child is sick, you can take a temperature and provide that information. These pieces of information will help the on-call provider recommend one of the following options:

  • Watchful waiting and certain treatments at home
  • An appointment in the pediatric office the next day or in a few days
  • A visit to an immediate care clinic
  • A visit to the emergency room
  • Calling 911

How do you tell if you need Immediate Care vs. the Emergency room vs. 911?

Whether you take your child to an immediate care facility or the emergency room, it’s important to select a location that focuses on pediatric care and will know what’s best for your child.

Visiting Immediate Care

With locations at our Outpatient Center in Lincoln Park and our Outpatient Center in Northbrook, Lurie Children’s Immediate Care offers same-day medical services for unexpected illnesses with extended hours and walk-in service. Our pediatricians provide urgent treatment for non-emergencies or non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries, including:

  • Mild to moderate asthma attacks
  • Broken bones, strains and sprains, minor cuts and bruises
  • Colds, coughs, sore throats, earaches, pink eye, rashes
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and dehydration
  • Fever in children over two months old
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Sick symptoms that warrant COVID-19 , RSV and/or rapid flu testing

Visiting the Emergency Department

If your child’s injury or illness is serious or worsening, do not delay seeking care at our Emergency Department. Experienced physicians and nurses are poised around the clock to handle even the most complicated, life-threatening injuries or conditions, such as:

  • Newborns (under two months) with a fever of 100.4° F or higher
  • Severe chest pain, trouble breathing, passing out or fainting, coughing up blood
  • Severe asthma attacks
  • Severe dehydration (child is lethargic, has dry lips or mouth, hasn’t urinated in 4 to 6 hours, vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Serious allergic reactions (swelling, trouble breathing)
  • Injuries such as large and complex cuts or wounds, open or severe bone fractures, ingesting poison, serious burns
  • Sudden neurologic concerns such as changes in mental status (child is hard to wake up or is confused when you wake them up), seizures, high fevers with headache and a stiff neck, sudden changes in the ability to speak, see, walk or move
  • Safety concerns and thoughts of harming themselves or others

When to Call 911

If your child is unresponsive or there is a life-threatening emergency at home that cannot wait, please call 911 right away.

Keeping Your Child Healthy This Fall

Lurie Children's experts recommend the following tips to stay healthy:

  • Visiting your pediatrician for recommended well checks and stay up to date with routine immunizations and health recommendations.
  • Wearing a mask (for all children ages 2 and older), practicing physical distancing and practicing hand hygiene.
  • Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as your child is eligible
  • As cold and flu season gets underway, your child’s best defense against the flu is to get the flu vaccine each year.
  • Encouraging all family members and family contacts to receive important vaccinations like the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot, to also protect your child.

Remember that the same practices that help prevent COVID-19, can help prevent cold, flu and other common childhood illness. If you or your child is experiencing any symptoms of illness, it’s important to stay home from school, daycare or other public events.

Please refer to Lurie Children’s COVID-19 Resources for continually updated information for patient families, healthcare providers and general information on the virus and keeping families healthy.