Emergency Tactics

What to do when your child needs quick medical attention.


Each year thousands of children under the age of 10 die as a result of an injury, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. You can prevent many of these deaths by knowing exactly what warrants immediate medical attention. The following are instances that require emergency medical services. Read on and learn what you can do to help your child while you're waiting for help to arrive.

Next: Choking


What happens: Your child won't be able to cough or make a sound.

What to do: Call for emergency help right away. If your child can cough or make a sound, do nothing until help arrives. If he can't make any sound, perform CPR if you're able.

What not to do: Don't put your finger into his mouth unless you can see the object obstructing his breathing. It may get stuck farther down his windpipe.

If you're interested in learning CPR, contact your local Red Cross.

Next: Poisoning


What happens: Your child may become ill, or you may notice a change in behavior. Be aware, however, that children who eat or drink something poisonous sometimes show no symptoms.

What to do: If he becomes ill, call for emergency help right away. During that call, find out what to do for her symptoms, which may include a seizure, loss of consciousness, or breathing trouble. If she shows no symptoms, call your local Poison Control Center before dialing 911.

What not to do: Don't forget to have the medication or substance that she swallowed in hand when you call so you can give complete information to the Poison Control Center. Don't make her vomit unless advised to do so by the Poison Control Center.

Next: Drowning


What happens: Your child may sink out of sight under water or may thrash about trying to stay afloat.

What to do: Have someone call for help right away while you get your child out of the water. If he's not breathing, begin CPR and chest compressions, if needed.

What not to do: Don't enter the water if you can reach the child without doing so. Avoid letting him grab you.

Severe Bleeding

What happens: Your child's bleeding won't stop, even when you raise the bleeding body part above chest level and apply gentle pressure to the wound.

What to do: Apply direct pressure with your hand, a gauze pad, or a clean cloth. Call 911 or take her to the emergency room.

What not to do: Don't remove any object that's in her wound, and don't probe or put any object into her wound.

Trouble Breathing

What happens: Your child's chest will rise and fall quickly and he'll seem anxious.

What to do: Call for emergency help right away. Allow your child to get into the position that's most comfortable for him.

What not to do: If he can talk or cough, don't take any steps to relieve choking. Don't force him to lie down.

Next: Not Breathing

Not Breathing

What happens: You won't be able to see, hear, or feel your child breathing. Her skin may be pale, gray, or even blue.

What to do: If you know how, perform CPR and chest compressions. If you're alone, call for emergency help after about a minute, even if you have to stop the CPR briefly to do so.

What not to do: If you're alone with her, don't call for emergency help before trying to perform CPR.

Next: Severe Burn

Severe Burn

What happens: Your child's skin will change color and become either red, pale, or charred. His skin may or may not have blisters.

What to do: Place a clean, cool cloth gently over the burn. Cover him with a clean sheet and blanket for warmth before taking him to the emergency room.

What not to do: Don't put ice, butter, or any cream or ointment on the burn.

Next: Seizure


What happens: Your child won't be able to respond to you. He may be shaking and his eyes may be rolled back.

What to do: Lay him on his side and clear away any objects that could harm him. Let the seizure run its course; it will probably stop. If it continues for more than 10 minutes, call for an ambulance.

What not to do: Don't perform CPR on your child during the active part of the seizure. Don't restrain him in an effort to stop the shaking, or put any objects into his mouth.


What happens: Your child will appear to be asleep, but you won't be able to awaken her.

What to do: Call for emergency help right away. Keep her lying down and raise her legs 6 to 12 inches.

What not to do: Don't move her (unless she's in a dangerous place) or give her any food or drink.

Next: Broken Bone

Broken Bone

What happens: A segment of a bone is forced out of place. Symptoms can include bone misalignment, limited motion, or a snapping sound.

What to do: If you suspect a skull, neck, back, or pelvic fracture, keep your child still and call 911 immediately. If the break occurs in an arm or leg, immobilize the limb and take her to the emergency room.

What not to do: Never attempt to straighten or change the position of a dislocated joint or broken bone. Avoid giving your child anything to eat or drink, since there is a possibility that surgery will be necessary.

Reviewed 2/02 by Jane Forester, MD

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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