We Need To Stop Wasting The ER's Time With Our Feverish Kids

Why are moms listening to the advice of parents on Facebook groups more than the wisdom of doctors?

e·mer·gen·cy – noun - a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.

Everyone talks about the health care system in Canada and its failings. The trade off with having government funded health care is super long wait times in the ER. I’ve always wondered why these emergency rooms are packed. I assumed it must be because so many people have emergencies. I assumed wrong. 

Being in parenting groups on social media made me realize that it’s probably full of people who don’t have emergencies. People who sit in a waiting room, surrounded by the seriously sick and injured, for hours on end, over something which can wait for the morning and a GP. 

ERs are so clogged and overburdened. We all need to work better at self-diagnosing when we really truly need the ER and those times when we could wait to see a doctor.

We’re moms. We don’t want our kids to hurt or suffer and will do whatever we can to relieve their pain. Sometimes, in wanting to do that, we lose sight of how we can best do that. Sometimes it’s alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen and blasting a humidifier. Sometimes it’s rushing to the ER. Sometimes it’s calling 911. It’s important to know when to do what.

So here is some advice; not from me, but from respected medical resources that explain what is “a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action,” and what is not.

Don’t take your child to the ER with a fever of 101, unless they’re a newborn. Medical professionals barely consider that a legit fever. It’s almost not worth medicating, let alone rushing to the ER for. Anything under 102 should be treated with meds at home and allowed to ride it out. But don’t take my word for it. Take the advice of a medical professional.

According to the Mayo Clinic, you shouldn’t even consider going to a doctor at all, let alone the ER, for less than 102 degrees, and even then, only if they’re displaying other concerning symptoms.

“An unexplained fever is greater cause for concern in infants and in children than in adults. Call your baby's doctor if your child is:

  • Younger than age 3 months and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher
  • Between ages 3 to 6 months and has a temperature up to 102 F (38.9 C) and seems unusually irritable, lethargic or uncomfortable or has a temperature higher than 102 F (38.9 C)
  • Between ages 6 to 24 months and has a temperature higher than 102 F (38.9 C) that lasts longer than one day but shows no other symptoms. If your child also has other signs and symptoms, such as a cold, cough or diarrhea, you might call your child's doctor sooner based on severity.”

And for children two years up to adult? Call your child's doctor if your child:

“Is listless or irritable, vomits repeatedly, has a severe headache or stomach ache, or has any other symptoms causing significant discomfort. Has a fever that lasts longer than three days (in children age 2 and older). Appears listless and has poor eye contact with you.”

I have heard of a number of people in mom groups ask if they should go to the ER when their child has been rocking a 101.5 fever for 24 hours and been greeted with a chorus of "yes!" It happens all the time. But Facebook friends are not the experts, so why are we listening to them?

If your child has a rash, but it’s not causing debilitating pain and there’s no fever, don’t go to the ER. Go to your doctor.

Dermatologist Daniela Kroshinsky, MD, MPH, FAAD, associate professor of dermatology, Harvard Medical School, told the American Academy of Dermatology, that the ER is only needed on rare occasions, for example:

“The rash is all over your body. . . You have a fever with the rash: If this is the case, see your doctor or go to the emergency room. This could be caused by an allergic reaction or an infection. . .The rash is sudden and spreads rapidly: This could be the result of an allergy. . .If breathing becomes difficult, go to the emergency room or call 911.”

Don’t go the ER if you notice a bump or a scratch is still there a month later. That’s what your GP is for. Leave the ER for people who can’t breathe or who cut off a finger with a hacksaw. Seriously.

I recently saw this post on my Facebook:

“My daughter cut her knee on glass more than 2 months ago. Wound is not healing. It still hurts her and it's bubbling up instead of healing. She let me touch it today and it feels like something is in it. What do you mommies think? Should I do to walk in clinic or right to emergency?”

The response? 

“My gut says emergency. Especially if you feel something inside,” said one. “This looks like she's got a piece of glass in there and it's been infected. ER right away,” advised another.

Please, please, don’t go to the ER. It can wait for your GP in the morning.

The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), asks you to consider things like this, and the like, before dragging your child to sit in an ER waiting room for hours on end:

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