Of course if you experience any symptoms that you believe to be an emergency, do not hesitate—seek medical care immediately. Otherwise, be prudent about whether or not to seek the services of an emergency room.
If possible you might consider calling your regular doctor first and relaying to him or her what your symptoms are. The doctor can then advise you accordingly. Many physicians will work you into their schedule if they feel you need medical attention but do not need to visit an ER.
Primary care doctors are generally available 24 hours a day or they function within a group of doctors who rotate being on call at certain hours.
The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) recommends you familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of illnesses and injuries such as those listed in the booklet Home Organizer for Medical Emergencies. For a complimentary copy, call ACEP at 800-446-9776.
Emergency Rooms: Considerations
Below are some guidelines and considerations you might give thought to when determining whether or not your condition warrants a visit to the ER.
Conditions that call for the ER
• Loss of consciousness
• Signs of heart attack lasting longer than two minutes, such as: pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest; tightness, burning, or aching under the breastbone; chest pain with lightheadedness;
• Signs of a stroke, such as: sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body; sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye; loss of speech, or trouble talking or understanding speech; sudden, severe headaches with no known cause; unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially when accompanied by any other stroke symptom;
• Significant shortness of breath;
• Bleeding which, despite direct pressure for ten minutes, does not stop;
• Instantaneous and severe pain;
• Poisoning (Note: If at all possible, first contact the local poison control center; request immediately applicable advice, since some poisons must be vomited immediately and other poisons must be diluted with water immediately. Acting quickly in this manner can save a life.)
• An allergic reaction to an insect bite, sting, or medication, especially if breathing becomes labored (your symptoms will progressively get more severe)
• Serious traumatic injury (i.e. to the head)
• Unexplained stupor, drowsiness or disorientation.
• Vomiting or coughing up blood.
• Severe or persistent vomiting
• Suicidal or homicidal feelings
Conditions that generally do not call for the ER
• Minor cuts in which bleeding has been stopped;
• A bite from an animal which has stopped bleeding (nonetheless you should call your doctor in the event a rabies shot is required);
• A broken bone (instead of the ER, contact your doctor. If that isn’t possible, or if the fracture is evident, then head to the ER immediately).
• A sprain, rash, sunburn or minor burn
• Sting from an insect (unless you experience labored breathing; in that case, go to the ER or call 911 immediately).
• Fever (if you are convulsive, then go to the ER).
• Sexually-transmitted diseases. (STDs)
• Colds, coughs, a sore throat, or flu symptoms