When Should Your Child Go to the Hospital?

Go with Your Gut

Doctors stress that, despite general guidelines, parents should trust their instincts when they believe a child needs medical care fast. "Some parents worry about abusing the ER because the situation turns out to be less serious than they thought," Dr. Gorelick says. "But I'm happy to figure out that a kid's not seriously sick. For example, croup causes a barking cough in the middle of the night, and it's appropriate for a parent to rush in with a child who's having trouble breathing. Cold night air relieves this, so some kids are better by the time they get to the ER -- but that doesn't mean they shouldn't have come."

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