What is Considered a Medical Emergency?

When it comes to your or your family’s health, never hesitate to call something an emergency if you aren’t sure. Paramedics and emergency healthcare professionals will not going to ridicule you for making the right choice for yourself or someone you love. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

But it can be draining (for your energy and your wallet) to treat every injury or symptom as a medical emergency. Sometimes it is difficult to decide if you need emergency treatment, so this post is here to help you determine when a trip to the emergency room is warranted.

What to Do in Case of Emergency

Before we get started, here are some tips on reacting in a medical emergency:

  • Remain as calm as possible and call the local emergency number or 911.
  • Start CPR or rescue breathing if necessary and if you know how.
  • Place a semi-conscious or unconscious person in the recovery position until an ambulance arrives EXCEPT if they might have a neck injury.

For adults, the recovery position is on their right side. For an infant, it is lying face down with the head lower than the feet in your arms.

This Is an Emergency…

A note: Below is a list of symptoms or emergency situations that often require emergency medical attention. This is not a comprehensive list, and there may be other symptoms or situations that call for a trip to the emergency room. Please remember that situations vary, as do different individual’s personal health situations. When in doubt about the severity of your medical issue, contact a medical professional for evaluation.

Extreme Severity

Massive blood loss or bleeding that spurts, pulses, or will not stop, severe chest pain or head pain, and nonstop vomiting or diarrhea with severe hydration are all emergencies. 

Call 911 or your local emergency number. 

Almost any severe medical incident can be an emergency:

  • Severe bone fractures
  • Severe neck stiffness or rash accompanied by fever
  • Severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis
  • Severe bleeding
  • Severe pain in any part of the body
  • Severe burns
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Large lacerations (cuts) that require stitching or that bleed a lot requires emergency treatment. So does coughing or vomiting up blood.


Many sudden events cause emergencies:

  • Motor vehicle accident
  • Burns or smoke inhalation
  • Near drowning
  • Deep or large wounds
  • Venomous bites or stings with local spreading redness and swelling or general illness
  • Other severe and sudden injuries or pain

Any sudden pain anywhere in the body, such as the abdomen, chest, eye, or head could signal an emergency.

Brain Involvement

If you observe someone with the following symptoms, you might be witnessing an emergency involving the brain:

  • A seizure lasting more than 2 minutes in a child with no previous history of seizures
  • Any seizures in adults
  • Severe headache
  • A change in mental status like unusual behavior, confusion, or difficulty rousing
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Trouble speaking
  • Feeling like committing suicide or murder
  • A head or spinal injury 
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, numbness, or change in vision on one or both sides of the body

Head or spine injuries can result in:

  • A decrease in alertness levels
  • Confusion 
  • Headache 
  • Vomiting 
  • Irritability 
  • Trouble walking

Breathing and Heart Problems

If someone has trouble breathing, you might observe:

  • Difficulty taking a breath or breathing too fast
  • Shortness of breath or unable to take a deep breath
  • Choking 
  • A bluish tinge to the lips, skin, fingertips, or nail beds
  • Croup or coughing

Breathing problems or chest pain can signal a heart attack. They can also result from pneumonia, emphysema, asthma, or pneumothorax (which can cause a collapsed lung).

Other Emergency Situations Include:

  • Swallowing a poisonous substance
  • Swallowing an object with difficulty followed by difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Worsening of a chronic illness like diabetes or asthma

If someone needs the skills or equipment of paramedics, if you believe the person’s condition could become life-threatening on the way to the hospital, or if moving them could cause further injury, call 911 or your local emergency number.

If the traffic conditions or distance might cause a delay in getting a person to the hospital, call 911 or your local emergency number. 

Family First ER provides high-quality treatment for all types of non-life threatening medical emergencies. Read more about our emergency services here.

Not an Emergency

In general, if the person (especially a child) can walk, talk, interact, and play, it’s probably not an emergency. Call your doctor or pediatrician for advice if you are uncertain.

Other non-emergency issues include:

  • Minor burns
  • Earaches or ear infection
  • Pink eye
  • A potential urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Sore throat or possible Strep throat
  • Rashes and mild skin infections
  • Gastrointestinal illnesses like vomiting or diarrhea with mild dehydration
  • Simple wounds with easily controlled bleeding
  • Allergies 

These issues are not usually life-threatening, though they will still require medical attention.

If you don’t have a regular physician or cannot reach your primary care provider, you can visit a freestanding emergency room like Family First ER. Family First ER is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year to quickly treat any conditions that require prompt attention.

How to Prepare for an Emergency

The best way to prepare for a possible medical emergency is to be informed. Determine the fastest route to the nearest emergency room. Know which hospital or facility your doctor works at and go there, if it’s practical.

Keep the emergency phone numbers saved in your phone for easy access. Include these numbers:

  • Emergency department
  • Police department
  • Fire department
  • Poison control center
  • Ambulance center
  • Your doctors’ phone numbers
  • Contact numbers for neighbors or relatives
  • Work phone numbers

If you have a chronic illness, wear a medical ID tag. If you find someone in distress or with the symptoms listed as emergencies, check for a medical alert tag on a bracelet, necklace, or anklet.

Above all, when in doubt, get help. 

What Happens in the ER?

If you need to visit an emergency room, check out this blog post on what to expect during your stay. Once you arrive, you will be immediately evaluated by an emergency care professional. Any life or limb-threatening conditions are treated first. Anyone without a life or limb-threatening condition may have to wait.

It’s OK to Call for Help

Emergency rooms, first responder agencies, and your pediatrician or primary care provider have heard it all. Never hesitate to call for help. If you aren’t sure it’s an emergency, call your doctor. 

If you cannot get in touch with your doctor or if your symptoms worsen, it’s better to go to the ER than not go. Everyone is delighted when it turns out to be something minor, but if the worst happens, you’ll be in the right place.  

At Family First ER, our medical professionals won’t treat you like a hassle or an inconvenience. We will take care of you like a family member who is in pain and needs help. We have the qualified staff that will ensure you get the care and attention you deserve.