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When to go: Emergency Room vs. Urgent Care

nurse helps young girl with hurt arm

The inevitable has happened - your child came down with an unforeseen illness or injury. And of course, it always happens when your doctor’s office is closed. So, the dilemma every parent faces …do you go to the Emergency Room (ER) or Urgent Care?

Keep reading for tips below, and listen to our podcast episode with Dr. Jennifer Johnson on where you should take your child for care. 

Generally speaking, urgent cares are designed to save unnecessary trips to the ER, and are usually easier to access, have shorter wait times and cost less than an ER visit.

Remember, if your child has a life-threatening illness or injury, always call 911. But not every situation is as clear-cut. If your child breaks a bone, has a high fever or an asthma attack, what should you do? This chart can help you determine where to take your child for immediate treatment.

Emergency Room

Urgent Care

Asthma attack (severe)


Bleeding that won't stop

Asthma attack (minor)

Broken bone (looks bent, curved or deformed)

Broken bone (not bent)

Burn (severe)


Cast problems (soiled or wet)

Burn (minor)

Cut (severe)

Cold or cough


Cut (minor)

Fever (infant less than 2 months old)


Head injury (loss of consciousness or extreme impact)


Headache (migraine)


Pneumonia (diagnosed and with worsening symptoms)

Earache and ear infection


Fever (children over 2 months old)



Stomach pain (severe)

Head injury (no loss of consciousness, minor impact)

Swallowed object

Insect or minor dog bite

Trouble breathing

Nausea, vomiting

Ultrasound, CT scan or MRI

Pink eye




Sore throat


Sprain or strain


Stitches (from minor cut)


Stomach pain (mild)


Urinary infection



Whether you take your child to Urgent Care or the ER, it's helpful to look for a healthcare system that is focused on pediatrics and is staffed by board-certified pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners. These facilities are equipped with people and equipment that can hopefully help make a bad situation better for your child.