When Should You Go To Urgent Care For Children

urgent care for children

A baby with a fever in the middle of the night. A toddler who falls off a bed and splits his chin open on the way down. A cough that just won’t go away. An arm that bent the wrong way when jumping off a swing.

These are all very real, possible scenarios when you have kids. Kids don’t always get sick or hurt during convenient times (i.e., when the pediatrician’s office is open!).

Keep this list on hand for those situations where you wonder if you need urgent care for your children or you should just wait until the pediatrician’s office opens.

What is Urgent Care?

Urgent care is not an emergency room. If your child has a life-threatening illness or injury, you want to go directly to the ER. Skip the urgent care in those situations.

An urgent care is for situations where you or your children need care but the ailment isn’t life-threatening. There are many urgent cares specifically for children that specialize in juveniles. Others may staff pediatricians to address any illnesses or injuries in children.

Urgent cares are usually stand-alone or may be affiliated with a hospital system. The good news is that there are a lot of them. In fact, there are over 7,500 urgent cares across the US. Chances are there is one (or more!) near you.

The even better news is that the wait time is usually pretty low. There’s little chance you’re going to spend hours waiting at urgent care like you would at the emergency room. Overall, urgent cares are more efficient and usually less expensive than the ER.

Urgent Care for Children: When Should You Go?

urgent care for children

Child gets injury on the forehead and the nurse helps with getting plaster on the wound so it can heal

Before going to urgent care, experts recommend that you investigate whether they treat infants. Urgent cares that aren’t specifically geared towards kids might not treat those under a certain age. Check online or call them to make sure they’ll treat your child.

Now that you know what an urgent care does (and what it doesn’t), what situations necessitate urgent care?

If you can get in with your pediatrician, that is the best option for many situations, especially illnesses. But if your pediatrician doesn’t have an available appointment or it’s after hours or on the weekend? Here’s when you should consider urgent care.


If your child has a persistent fever that is accompanied by cold symptoms and you suspect it might be the flu, you should have them checked out at urgent care if your pediatrician isn’t available. If left untreated, the flu can cause death in children.

Urgent care will be able to give your child a flu test and prescribe appropriate medication if necessary. If the flu is severe, they may send you to the ER where your child may be admitted to the hospital.

Ear Infection

Ear infections are incredibly common and they can also be incredibly painful. If your child is complaining of ear pain, the ear has drainage or a foul smell, or if your baby or non-verbal child is constantly pulling at their ear, they may have an ear infection.

Left untreated, ear infections can result in hearing loss. It’s necessary to have a medical professional diagnose an ear infection, as some of them are treated with antibiotics while others are not.

Sore Throat with White Patches

If your child has a sore throat and you can see white patches or spots on the tonsils or near the back of their mouth, they may have strep throat. Strep throat is extremely contagious.

The good news is that once it is diagnosed, an antibiotic will have your child feeling better quickly–usually within 24 hours, if not sooner.

Suspected Pink Eye

Like strep throat, conjunctivitis (what we know as pink eye) is highly contagious. If your child has red, inflamed eyes with excessive discharge, they may have pink eye. The good news is that, again like strep throat, treatment works quickly. Eye drops will have your child feeling better in no time.

Persistent Vomiting or Diarrhea

If your child has had persistent vomiting or diarrhea, there is a chance they may be dehydrated. Take them to urgent care if they can’t keep anything down. You want to address these issues sooner rather than later so they don’t become dehydrated and end up in the hospital getting fluids.

Urgent Care for Children: When to Go to the ER Instead

The emergency room typically conjures up negative thoughts, especially if you’re in a big city. Tons of people, waiting for hours, and chaos. This makes most people avoid it at all costs.

While urgent care can address many medical issues, there are some situations when you should bypass urgent care and go straight to the ER.

If your child has an injury that is life-threatening or limb-threatening, head to the ER. If they have any trouble breathing or report any pains in their chest, you should go to the ER.

Any head traumas, paralysis, or loss of vision also call for the emergency room. In general, the more serious the illness or injury, the more likely it is that you need the ER. You don’t want to waste time at urgent care if you really need the advanced medical expertise of the emergency room.

Final Thoughts

An urgent care for children, especially one especially geared towards pediatrics, can be a convenient and low-cost option if your child needs medical care outside of your pediatrician’s hours.

If you are unsure of whether your child needs urgent care or the ER, you can always call your pediatrician. Even if it is after-hours, their answering service will typically take a message and relay it to the doctor on call, who can call you and give you a recommendation.

If you are in a situation where you need to take your child to urgent care and aren’t sure where the closest one is, we can help. Check out our search tools to find urgent cares near your home.

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