The Most Common Pediatric Emergencies

Did you know nearly a third of emergency room visits are due to pediatric emergencies? Sick and injured children are a unique population that requires special care. There are many differences between treating adults and providing emergency medical care for children.

The signs and symptoms in children tend to be subtle and normal values for pulse, breathing, and other vital signs change as a child grows. The doctor needs specialized knowledge of pediatrics to determine if there really is a problem and how to treat it.

Most emergencies fall into the general categories of breathing trouble, upset stomachs, injuries, and infections. Children get sick, are exposed to environmental dangers (like drowning or poisons), or may have chronic conditions that put them at higher risk of any of these problems.

Emergency rooms with qualified pediatric healthcare providers take care of all of these problems as well as meet the challenge of keeping Mom and Dad (or another caregiver) as calm and informed as possible. 

Here is when to go to the ER with your child, how doctors and nurses approach diagnosing and treating your child, and the most common issues seen for emergency children’s treatment.

Trust Your Instincts: When to Go to the ER With Your Child

You know your child best. As they grow, children show parents how they are feeling with their behavior. Even those who can’t talk yet or describe the problem can tell you something isn’t right.

Take your child to the emergency room if you notice:

  • Symptoms or complaints of severe pain
  • Trouble breathing – wheezing, flaring the nostrils, or straining other muscles to breathe
  • Ongoing or excessive diarrhea or vomiting
  • Injuries from a fall, accident, or while playing sports
  • Few or no bowel movements over several days
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Fever that doesn’t go down with medicine like Tylenol or Ibuprofen
  • Exposure to toxic substances like poisons, cleaning supplies, and other non-food items
  • Signs of dehydration like sunken-looking eyes, few to no tears when crying, dry or sticky mouth, fewer diapers than normal

If you think your child needs emergency treatment, you are probably right. Even if it turns out to be something minor, it’s best to be careful.

What Is the First Thing the Doctor Will Do?

The first thing the emergency pediatrician does is evaluate or examine the child to get an idea of the problem.

Next, the doctor follows an ABCDE assessment. This means checking the child’s:

  • Airway for obstructions
  • Breathing ability and amount of difficulty
  • Circulation to ensure blood is flowing where it needs to be
  • Disability to determine how much the problem affects the child’s ability to move and think
  • Exposure to poisons, toxins, plants, medicines, or other substances that could cause a problem

Then the doctor will ask a series of questions to find out whether your child has been running a fever, vomiting, wheezing, and other signs of illness before you came to the ER. The pediatrician or nurse will also ask about allergies to medications or other substances and any medications the child takes regularly.

Just like a hospital, Family First ER is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. See more details on the range of emergency services we offer.

8 Common Pediatric Emergencies

Respiratory Distress – Trouble Breathing

If a child runs a high fever or has a chronic illness involving the lungs, respiratory distress is a common symptom. Seizures can also cause trouble breathing. 

Common childhood illnesses that include respiratory distress include:

  • Asthma 
  • Croup 
  • Bronchiolitis 
  • Pneumonia 

Common signs of respiratory distress include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Nasal flaring (flaring the nostrils)
  • Using more muscles to try to breathe, like straining the abdominal or neck muscles
  • Grunting, wheezing, and other abnormal breath sounds
  • Lethargy or irritability
  • Sinking of the chest
  • Sitting with hands on knees or another surface to try to relieve distress

You can take your child to the emergency room for any type of breathing trouble, but please call 911 if your child is not breathing.


Trauma means injury from a serious accident like being in a car accident, falling off a bike (or a roof), or injuries caused by playing sports.

From deep cuts (lacerations) to sprained or broken bones, from concussions to other types of head injury, trauma is a common reason for an emergency room visit, especially if it is severe.

Digestive (Tummy) Issues

So many things can cause tummy problems in infants and children. Infections with a virus, bacteria, or fungus can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. It may also occur due to an undiagnosed food allergy or sensitivity. (In some cases, a food allergy can also cause respiratory distress.)

Another cause of digestive issues is intestinal obstruction. When something is blocking the intestines, the body cannot continue digestion or get rid of waste. Hepatitis is also considered a digestive issue since it involves the liver, a major organ that helps the body remove toxins.


Bacteria, viruses, and fungi can do more than cause tummy problems. They can infect cuts, cause ear or respiratory infections, meningitis, encephalitis, endocarditis, and childhood diseases like Whooping Cough.

Skin Conditions

Sometimes skin problems need emergency treatment. Issues include pain, itching, inflammation, redness, and other discomforts. A skin condition can come from genetic factors, too. 

Viruses and environmental exposure (poison ivy, anyone?) can cause skin conditions such as:

  • Hives 
  • Rashes 
  • Erythema (redness)
  • Chickenpox (viral infection with Herpes zoster)
  • Pustules (small fluid-filled bumps on the skin)

Scratching at skin conditions like a rash can create the conditions for another infection to enter any open skin.


Lots of things cause pain, and small children may not be able to tell you much about it other than it hurts.

Our pediatric emergency room doctors treat abdominal pain, chest pain, acute (severe and sudden) headache, and orthopedic (foot) pain.

Environmental Injuries

Environmental injuries include:

  • Poisoning 
  • Burns 
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Drowning 
  • Anaphylaxis 
  • Hypothermia (critically reduce body temperature)
  • Heatstroke 
  • Dehydration 

Fire, water submersion, and other environmental factors can cause a host of problems.

Chronic Conditions

Children and babies with chronic conditions often require visits to the emergency room when their illness creates sudden and severe problems. These conditions include:

  • Congenital heart problems (heart problems from birth)
  • Endocrine or metabolic disorders like diabetes
  • Hematological or blood disorders like sickle cell anemia
  • Neurological (brain) disorders
  • Oncologic (cancer) issues

Chronic health conditions increase the probability the child will develop problems requiring emergency treatment.

Visit Family First ER

Family First ER has experienced pediatricians on staff, ready to diagnose and treat infants, toddlers, children, and teens for any illness or injury they may have.

Don’t hesitate to bring your child to see us or call if you have questions. We are here to serve you.