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 that of an EMT. You know how it goes: You turn your back for just a few seconds and then suddenly your kid is 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 pretty 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 do need to know is how to recognize the following serious situations, the steps you should take right away, and whether you should call your doc or 911, or go to the E.R.
1. Head Injury
The Signs: After a bump to the head, red flags of a concussion can include passing out (even briefly), severe headache, vomiting, confusion, sleepiness, or difficulty walking.
What to Do Immediately: Check your child. If he seems to have hurt his neck—which is possible if he fell on his head—or has any weakness or tingling in his arms, keep him still and call 911. If he hit his head at a sports event, he must stop playing at once to avoid a second injury. Also call 911 if he passes out after a fall and has any trouble waking up. Go to an emergency room if he has a severe headache or if he’s confused, much sleepier than usual, stumbling, persistently vomiting, or doing anything else that’s worrisome. Otherwise, you should still call your doctor for advice right away.
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2. Severe Allergic Reaction
The Signs: Your child could break out in hives. Her face or lips might 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 (such as an EpiPen) available, use it. Even if she seems better afterward, take her to an E.R. anyway—the effects of the medication can wear off. If she is experiencing difficulty speaking or breathing, or if she passes out, don’t bother with the emergency room—call 911 immediately. No injector? Call 911. Make her comfortable. Check to see if you have any Benadryl (diphenhydramine) in the house, and give it to your child as you wait for help to arrive.
How & When to Use an EpiPen
3. Chipped or Knocked-Out Tooth
The Signs: In addition to the obvious dental damage, the area around his mouth might be red.
What to Do Immediately: Call your dentist right away, especially if it’s a permanent tooth. If you can’t reach her, head to the emergency room. A chipped tooth with an exposed nerve requires immediate attention. Place a knocked-out permanent tooth back in its socket ASAP if your child can hold it in its spot by biting a paper towel or a clean washcloth. (Rinse the tooth gently if need be.) Otherwise, keep the tooth in a sealed container with milk or a bit of saliva.
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 her 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 emergency room. If your child’s nosebleeds more than once or twice a week, or if she’s having other bleeding or bruising, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
How to Stop a Nosebleed
5. Broken Bone
The Signs: If the bone is crooked or sticking out, it’s broken. But often it’s less clear. After an injury, if your child is in a lot of pain, has swelling in the injured area, throws up, or feels light-headed, it is possible that a bone is broken.
What to Do Immediately: Make him comfortable. Move the affected limb as little as possible. Call 911 if the bone is sticking out or crooked or if he’s in severe pain. If not, call your doctor for advice, or go to the E.R.
6. Eye Injury
The Signs: Your child will probably be in a lot of pain and will rub or press on his eye(s), which might be red or tearing heavily.
What to Do Immediately: Call 911 if there’s obvious damage to the eye or if whatever is in it has burned his face too, if he’s having trouble breathing, or if he faints. Don’t force the eye open or f lush it if there was trauma from a direct blow or an object. Otherwise, hold it open as best you can and pour saline solution or tap water into it. If he seems fine, call your doctor. Go to the E.R. if he doesn’t.
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 that way, perform the Heimlich maneuver. Stand behind her and reach around her waist; place your fist (with the thumb in) above her belly button, and grab your fist with your other hand. Pull in and up quickly. Repeat this process a few times. If your child can’t speak or passes out, call 911 while someone performs CPR if possible to dislodge the object by doing chest compressions.
8. Bleeding Wound
The Signs: A cut is serious when the bleeding doesn’t stop after you’ve applied pressure for a few minutes.
What to Do Immediately: Continue to put pressure on it (a clean dishcloth or a piece of clothing works well). If it still won’t stop bleeding, call 911. If it does stop bleeding with pressure, go to the E.R.—but you might need to call 911 anyway if you can’t continue applying pressure while on the way. Go to the E.R. if the edges of the cut gape apart or if there’s a deep hole. Otherwise, clean it well with soap and water, and once it has stopped bleeding, put a bandage on it. Call your doctor if you have any questions.
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The Signs: Symptoms depend on the poison. They commonly include burns on the mouth, difficulty breathing, sleepiness, and vomiting. Poisoning could be to blame any time your young child is suddenly ill or acting strangely.
What to Do Immediately: If she’s having trouble breathing or staying awake, call 911. Otherwise call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 to find out whether you need to get medical attention. It’s helpful if you know what she ingested; if possible, have the container handy and be ready to tell the staffer what your child weighs and how much you think she consumed.
The Signs: Your child’s skin could be very red and blistered. A third-degree burn, the worst kind, can appear white or black.
What to Do Immediately: Run his skin under cold water. Call 911 for a significant burn that’s caused by an open f lame or electricity, or if your child is acting confused or short of breath. Otherwise, call your doctor right away for advice. If you can’t reach someone within 30 minutes, go to an E.R.
How to Treat a Burn
The Signs: Your child might suddenly start jerking or stiffening his arms or legs and not respond to you. The symptoms can also be more subtle. For example, he may stare or look dazed for several seconds, or his eyes may roll up.
What to Do Immediately: Place him on his side. Try to note the time; most seizures last between two and five minutes. Don’t put anything in his mouth; you don’t need to worry about his biting his tongue. If he’s never had a seizure before, call 911. If he has a seizure disorder, call 911 if he’s having trouble breathing; if he turns blue; if the seizure lasts for more than five minutes; or if, when the seizure has passed, he is in pain, extremely sleepy, unable to breathe well, or just seems different. If he has a seizure disorder and he seems okay (although sleepy) afterward, you should still call your doctor right away to ask for advice.