The No-Panic Guide to Handling Kid’s Health Emergencies

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How to deal with common catastrophes—and when a trip to the ER is in order.

My Kid Just: Swallowed a Small Toy

Chances are good it will go down the esophagus, into the stomach and pass through during a routine bowel movement, explains Robert Collins, M.D., emergency medicine physician at Indiana University Health. “There’s no need to seek help unless the child develops persistent vomiting, has abdominal pain, bloody stool and fever at any time afterward,” he says. Other reasons to call 911: your kid is having difficulty breathing or swallowing (two signs that the stray object is stuck in her airway); has ingested a toy containing two or more magnets, which can cause serious GI issues; or has swallowed a lithium battery, which can corrode through the esophagus and requires prompt attention.

My Kid Just: Hit His Head—Hard

Look for external signs of damage, like blood or clear fluid coming from the ear canal or bruising or swelling behind the ear or under the eyes. Both are possible signs of a skull fracture and merit medical attention. Also take note of how your kid is acting within 24 hours of hitting his head: Is he thinking, speaking and playing slower than normal? Has he vomited more than once? Any of those signs warrant a hospital visit. Otherwise, you can give him a dose of Tylenol for discomfort and apply an ice pack to the area for 10-20 minutes every couple of hours for the first 24 hours to help with the swelling, Dr. Collins says.

My Kid Just: Touched Something Hot

Head to the emergency room if the burn is blistering and is larger than a nickel or is located on the hands or face. Otherwise, for minor burns, like those caused by a brush against a hot iron or baking sheet, run cool water over the area for a couple of minutes for comfort. Then, gently pat the skin dry with a clean towel, apply some antibiotic ointment and, if possible, cover with a bandage. Keep the area protected with a bandage for a few days, depending on the size and depth of the burn, and offer Tylenol or Ibuprofen for pain. If the burn blisters, resist the urge the open it up. The fluid underneath is sterile and can act as a barrier until new skin grows in. If it breaks on its own, Dr. Collins suggests applying antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.

My Kid Just: Swallowed Something Poisonous

First things first, remove any remnants from your child’s mouth and offer her something to drink (water, milk, juice are all fine). Then call Poison Control to find out if what she ingested is toxic and warrants a trip to the ER. (Not everything does!) Don’t induce vomiting—on its way back up, the toxic stuff could get into your child’s lungs and cause her to aspirate, explains Dr. Daniel Rusyniak, M.D., medical director of the Indiana Poison Center at Indiana University Health. Poison Control will advise you when (and if) a trip to the emergency room is in order.

My Kid Just: Knocked Out a Tooth

You might not bat an eye at a knocked-out baby tooth but a detached adult tooth is important to save. First, check if the tooth is stuck in your child’s airway—if he’s choking or short of breath, head straight to the ER. If he swallowed the tooth and isn’t gagging, let it pass normally through a bowel movement. (Your child’s dentist can replace a missing adult tooth later with a dental implant.

If your child hasn’t ingested the tooth, and you can get your hands on it, simply rinse it off with tap water before heading to the dentist. Don’t brush the tooth—even if it’s dirty—as you could accidentally destroy precious ligaments down there. If your child is willing, gently nestle the tooth back in the empty socket. If that’s a no-go, place it under your child’s tongue so the saliva and bacteria can keep it moist, or if all else fails, let it sit in a cup of milk. It has neutral pH and won’t damage the supporting ligaments that may still be attached to the tooth.

My Kid Just: Had an Allergic Reaction to Food

If you see hives cropping up around her mouth or on the skin within a few hours after eating the food, give her a dose of a fast-acting antihistamine, like Benadryl, advises pediatric allergist Frederick E. Leickly, M.D., MPH at Indiana University Health.

If your child can’t breathe, lost consciousness or is vomiting so much she’s losing fluids—and you don’t have an injectable adrenaline on hand—call 911 and, if necessary, administer CPR. If you do have an injectable, give it to your child at the first signs of a bad reaction. The first injection will work within minutes, but if your child’s condition continues to deteriorate after that, don’t hesitate to administer a second one. Then, take her to the ER. “A life-threatening reaction to food will occur within the first two hours of exposure,” Dr. Leickly says. “Reactions that start very close in time after the exposure to the food are worrisome and tend to be more severe.”

- By Bonnie Vengrow

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