Appropriate Use of the Emergency Room 101

first-aid-1146983_960_720Have you recently been to the ER? What for? If you faced a true medical emergency, then you used the emergency room resource appropriately.

The list below will show a number of appropriate reasons for visiting the Emergency Department.

Please note: If you are in an emergency, call 911. You should call your PCP, a nurse hotline if you need medical advice. This article is not meant to be used as a means to diagnose any medical condition – only a qualified medical practitioner, such as a doctor, can help you to determine this. This article gives loose examples of situations that may warrant a visit to the ER: please use your best judgement in your prudent lay understanding of health and medicine.


Open Wounds & Active Bleeding

Did you get an open wound injury? Are you actively bleeding?


Allergic Reaction

Did you eat something that you shouldn’t have? If you have swelling, hives, or any other allergic reaction to the food you ate or some other element, it’s a good bet you should go to the ER.


Sudden Illness

Did you suddenly feel dizzy or short of breath at school or work? Sudden onset illness can be an indicator of a more serious condition.


Altered Behaviour

Are you or someone acting very strangely from their normal behaviour? For example: slurring words, unable to speak coherently or at all. It could be a sign of something more serious.


Abuse & Assault

If you have been assaulted or abused, please go to the ER immediately.


Threats of Abuse

If you are being threatened with physical or sexual abuse, call 911 or go to a police station.


Sports Injuries and Motor Vehicle Accidents

Were you in a sports related incident? Were you in a car accident? These are all reasons to go to the emergency room for a checkup for broken bones and other injuries. Even if you feel fine right after the incident, it’s good to go to the ER for a checkup. People who don’t go to the ER immediately can sometimes exhibit more post-accident conditions days later and so should also go to the ER.



Anyone who is going through a cataleptic event or just did should go to the ER for a checkup as soon as possible. During a seizure a person can get further injuries that can and should be prevented.


Sudden and/or Severe Headache

A headache may not seem like an emergency to some, but they can be dangerous to people operating a car. If you are experiencing a very severe headache (worst in your life-type), then you should go to the ER. Sudden onset headaches are also serious and should be checked on by a doctor. If a headache has been moderate but chronic, spanning weeks and alternating in intensity – this could also warrant a visit to the ER and followed up with your PCP.


Torn Stitches and Medical Devices

Any stitches that have torn or medical devices that have been dislodged? You should be brought to the ER where a doctor or nurse can assist.


Severe Burns

If you have a severe burn, please go to the ER immediately.


Foreign Object

Children who have swallowed marbles, pennies and any kind of foreign object should go to the ER. Adults who have a foreign object should also go to the ER for help.


Severe Constipation / Urinary Issues

If your body isn’t working the way it should and you’re feeling heavy and ill from not being able to go to the bathroom, this is a very severe condition needing emergency attention.


Abnormal Bleeding

Ladies who have severe bleeding that is out of the ordinary for them, or any other urinary dysfunction.


Illness in Infant or Premature Infant

If your baby is ill and you have no other means to get health care, it is okay to bring your baby in. Premature infants should especially be brought in as they may be more susceptible to illness.


Unwitnessed Falls (Infants and Elderly)

Any fall or other injury that may or may not have occurred out of the sight of the parents or caregivers should be brought to the ER.



If you are very ill and continue to vomit without getting better, it is time to see the ER.


Severe Abdominal Pain – Stomach Pain

If you are experiencing severe sharp pains in your stomach region, then it is worth checking it out at the ER. Sometimes it can be the stomach flu, but it is worth checking.



Anyone experiencing numbness of limbs, vision loss or alteration of vision, loss of feeling should go to the ER.


Severe Withdrawal

If you are addicted to any drug that is causing painful withdrawal, you should go to the ER for assistance. They may be able to redirect you to resources or help you there.


Chronic Conditions Exacerbated

Anyone with a chronic condition that has suddenly worsened should go to the emergency department for care. Whether that’s back pain or a recent rash, if it has gotten worse – go.


Self Harm

Anyone causing or considering causing injury to themselves should come to get care at the ER. They will be able to provide assistance and protection to you.


Shortness of Breath, Faintness and Dizziness

An alteration to your breathing, such as shortness of breath, faintness, fainting, dizziness and giddiness all need to go to the ER. They can be symptoms of a more serious condition.



The list above has broadly illustrated a set of situations where it may be appropriate to visit the Emergency Department. However, there are many more cases where you should go to the ER. How can you tell if it is a true emergency? Make your best judgement of the situation and get care. If you aren’t sure you may need medical advice – your PCP may have their line available, give them a call. Another option is a nurse hotline, where a certified trained nurse can help determine if you need to go to the ER right away.

Please use your best judgement in your prudent lay understanding of health and medicine.

  • “Would I suffer loss of life or limb if I didn’t go to the ER?”
  • Seek medical advice from a qualified medical practitioner, a doctor or nurse for example.
  • Call a nurse hotline if needing advice.

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