Emergency Basics

Common Non-Emergencies
If your problem is not an emergency, you do not need emergency care. Problems that are usually not emergencies include:

  • An earache
  • Cold or flu symptoms
  • Sunburn or minor cooking burn
  • Insect sting that does not cause breathing trouble
  • A minor cut where the bleeding is under control (but call your doctor to make sure your tetanus is up-to-date)
  • A skin rash
  • A fever without convulsions (uncontrollable skaking)
  • Muscle Sprain
  • An animal bite (unless you have been bitten on the face or hands, especially by a cat)

Why the Emergency Department is the Wrong Choice

The emergency department is not the right choice if you have a minor medical problem because:

  • You may have to wait, since the most serious cases are treated first.
  • Your medical records will probably not be available to help the doctor figure out what's wrong and treat you
  • Your health plan may not pay for your care.

Common Emergencies

An emergency is a medical problem that could cause death or permanent injury if not treated right away. Frequent emergencies include:

  • Severe bleeding that does not stop after 15 minutes or after constant, direct pressure
  • Sudden severe pain and swelling in a joint
  • Blacking out (fainting)
  • Swallowing poison
  • Choking
  • Suddenly not being able to speak or move
  • A broken bone
  • A human bite
  • A gaping wound
  • Severe chest pain along with sweating, shortness of breath, spreading pain, nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting (throwing up), dizziness, and/or a fast or irregular heartbeat.

Why the Emergency Department is the Right Choice

The emergency department is the best place to get treatment when you have an emergency because:

  • You get treated right away.
  • The emergency department staff is specially trained to handle these types of conditions.
  • A specialist (a doctor who is trained in a certain area of medicine) may be available if you need special care.

Emergency Care Tip

If you don't know whether your health problem is an emergency, ask yourself, "Would the average person think this problem is an emergency?" If your answer is "yes," you should probably go to the emergency room.