When Should Your Child Go to the Hospital?

When Should You Wait to See Your Child's Physician?

Most kids' illnesses, including ear infections, high fevers, and even all-nighters of vomiting or diarrhea, aren't emergencies, as long as the ABCDs don't apply. Much as you want an immediate diagnosis, it's best to avoid the ER if you can. The visit will likely be more stressful, more expensive, and much longer than a regular one: a patient's average time in an ER is four hours. Plus, doctors see patients in order of severity, not arrival, so if you rush in with a howling but alert child whose ear hurts, prepare for a wait.

Convenience and cost aren't the sole reasons to avoid the ER. Ultimately, a child who's not in danger is best off waiting to see his regular doctor, who is familiar with his medical history. Until you can get an appointment, offer acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve pain or reduce fever. Even repeated gastrointestinal bouts are usually far more distressing than dangerous; however, as soon as your child can keep liquids down, offer frequent sips of water, diluted juice, or a rehydration solution such as Pedialyte.

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