When you're a parent, you're also a cook, a chauffeur, a counselor, a tutor, a handyman, a coach, and more. But perhaps the scariest role you'll have to fill at some point is being an EMT. You know how it goes: One moment your child is playing happily -- and the next he's bleeding, or holding a wrist that's swelling before your eyes, or screaming after touching the hot pan you thought was totally out of reach.
It's entirely possible that all of your family's health emergencies will be minor. But being prepared for the bigger problems, just in case, is important. You don't actually need to have medical training, of course. What you need to know is how to recognize the following serious situations, the steps you should take right away, and whether you should call your doctor or 911, or go to the E.R.
Severe allergic reaction
The signs Your child may break out in hives. Her face and/or lips may swell, and she may cough or breathe with difficulty. Dizziness, vomiting, or diarrhea are also possible.
What to do immediately If there is an epinephrine injector (like an EpiPen) available, use it. Even if she seems better afterward, take her to an E.R. anyway because the effects of the medication can wear off. If she's having difficulty speaking or breathing, or if she passes out, don't bother with the E.R. -- call 911. No injector? Call 911. Make her comfortable. If you have any Benadryl (diphenhydramine) in the house, give it to your child as you wait for help to arrive.
The signs After a bump to the head, red flags of a concussion include passing out (even briefly), severe headache, vomiting, confusion, sleepiness, or trouble walking.
What to do immediately Check your child. If she seems to have hurt her neck -- which is possible if she fell on her head -- or has any weakness or tingling in her arms, keep her still and call 911. If she hit her head at a sports event, she must stop playing at once to avoid a second injury. Also call 911 if she passes out after a fall and has any trouble waking up. Go to an E.R. if she has a severe headache or if she's confused, much sleepier than usual, stumbling, persistently vomiting, or doing anything else that's worrisome. Otherwise, still call your doctor for advice.
The signs Again, this is an injury that is hard to miss. But most nosebleeds look worse than they are.
What to do immediately Pinch your child's nose right where the soft part meets the bone, and have him lean forward for at least five minutes. If that doesn't stop the bleeding, squeeze for another ten to 15 minutes. If it still doesn't stop, go to the E.R. If your child's nose bleeds more than once or twice a week, or if he's having other bleeding or bruising, call your doctor.
Chipped or knocked-out tooth
The signs In addition to the obvious dental damage, the area may be red.
What to do immediately Call your dentist right away, especially if it's a permanent tooth. If you can't reach her, go to an E.R. A chipped tooth with an exposed nerve needs to be addressed quickly. Put a knocked-out permanent tooth back in its socket ASAP if your child can hold it in place by biting a paper towel or a clean washcloth. (Rinse the tooth gently if need be.) Otherwise, keep it in a container with milk or a bit of saliva.
The signs She's having trouble breathing and may hold her hands to her throat or faint. It can happen while she's eating or playing, if she put a toy in her mouth.
What to do immediately Encourage her to cough it up. If the object doesn't come out, perform the Heimlich maneuver (see "How to Give the Heimlich Maneuver" video below). Stand behind her and reach around her waist; place your fist (thumb in) above her belly button and grab your fist with your other hand. Pull in and up quickly. Do this a few times. If the child can't speak or passes out, call 911 while someone performs CPR if possible to dislodge the object through chest compressions. (The process differs for a baby; see the "Performing Infant CPR" video below.)