When your child becomes sick or injured, it can be difficult to tell how serious it is. You may not know if you should choose an emergency department or urgent care.

We’ve outlined the times when you should seek urgent or emergency care, the differences between them and how you can best prepare for the next time your child gets sick or injured.

What should I do first?

If you are not concerned for a life-threating emergency and unsure about where to go, Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Alison Brent, MD, advises parents to first call their child’s primary care provider (PCP). Your PCP should be able to advise you on the best course of action.

These are guidelines. If you believe your child needs immediate attention and you have concerns for a life-threatening emergency, call 911.

When you should go to the emergency department

  • Your child’s skin or lips have turned blue
  • Your child is unresponsive or difficult to arouse
  • Your child is having serious trouble breathing (chest retracts and lips and/or fingers turn blue)
  • Your child has sustained a head injury with continuous vomiting or changes in level of alertness
  • Your child has ingested something you believe is dangerous: call Poison Control first. They can oftentimes direct you where to go and might be able to alert the urgent care facility or emergency room of your arrival. Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Your child has suffered a blunt or penetrating injury to the eye and has eye pain
  • An object is stuck in your child (do not pull it out)
  • Numbness, tingling, or paralysis, or weakness on one side of the body
  • Unexplained slurred speech or difficulty speaking
  • Severe headache or migraine along with blurred vision, difficulty speaking, numbness, tingling or paralysis
  • Your child has swallowed something AND has difficulty breathing (call 911)
  • Seizures that won’t stop
  • Your child has a fracture and the bone is sticking out
  • Anyone under the age of 18 who may be suicidal, homicidal or felt to be a threat to themselves or others
  • Anyone under the age of 18 who may have experienced acute sexual abuse or neglect

When it’s okay to go to urgent care

  • Anything that does not appear to be life threatening
  • Any routine acute illness or injury
  • Simple lacerations
  • Your child has sustained a head injury but is acting normally and not vomiting
  • Your child has swallowed something and is not have difficulty breathing
  • Normal headaches or migraines (without numbness, tingling or weakness)
  • Sprains, strains and fractures (unless bone is sticking out)
  • If your child has ingested something you believe is dangerous, call Poison Control first. They can oftentimes direct you where to go and might be able to alert the urgent care facility or emergency department of your arrival. Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

Who will care for my child at Children’s Colorado?

Whether you take your child to a Children’s Colorado emergency department or urgent care facility, your child will see a board-certified pediatrician or advanced level provider (nurse practitioner or physician assistant).

Our emergency locations are staffed sites 24 hours a day, seven days a week with physicians who are board certified and/or eligible in pediatric emergency medicine.

Why is it so important for kids to receive specialized pediatric care in urgent and emergency situations?

Children are not small adults. Even in an urgent or emergency situation, pediatric expertise matters. Here’s why:

Pediatric emergency medicine doctors are specially trained to care for kids

Pediatric emergency medicine physicians have three additional years of pediatric emergency training compared to general emergency medicine physicians and pediatricians. In addition to making kids (and their families) feel more secure and at ease in emergency situations, their skills in pediatrics allow pediatric emergency medicine physicians to be more comfortable with both the common and not-so-common pediatric emergency medical conditions. This allows them to make the proper diagnosis faster and with fewer and less invasive tests, which can make the process quicker and usually less painful.

Pediatric centers have kid-sized equipment and tests

Children are developing and changing every day. They have faster heart rates, growing bones and smaller airways. Kids also respond to medical tests, drugs and treatments differently, making specialized equipment and testing critical. While other emergency departments have equipment needed to diagnose and treat the general adult population, Children’s Colorado has specialized equipment that is designed for children and teens – and we have teams who know how to use it.

And unlike other hospitals and urgent care locations, we partner with your child’s pediatrician or your family doctor to make sure we work together and communicate about your child’s care.

Keep your kids healthy with valuable tips and information from the experts at Children’s Hospital Colorado.