When to Come into the ER vs. When to Call 911

When In Doubt, Call 911

Health emergencies invoke a considerable amount of stress and fear for everyone involved. However, knowing how and when to seek the right form of medical attention can make this frightening scenario a little easier to address.

Oftentimes, patients and their families struggle with deciding between whether to call emergency services to tend to a health crisis, or whether to head straight to the nearest emergency room. Here is a list of some of the most common health emergencies across the country, as well as which symptoms require urgent medical attention.

Chest Pain


When you or a loved one experience sudden chest pain, your first instinct may be to dial 911. However, you should only do this if your chest pains occur alongside additional symptoms, such as shock, sweating, an abnormal or quick pulse, trouble breathing, fainting, pain in the arms, neck, shoulders, or jaw, or nausea, and is severely painful; or if the pain persists for more than a five-minute period. Otherwise, a trip to the emergency room is recommended.



Visit the emergency room if you have developed the flu and more severe symptoms, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Incessant vomiting
  • Faintness
  • Severe pain in your stomach or chest

If the afflicted person is a child or infant, look for a refusal to drink or eat, blue skin, changes in breathing, dehydration, or severe irritability. If you are pregnant, seek care if you notice decreases in your baby’s movement or if you have a persistent high fever you can’t treat with medication.

Pediatrics / Infant Care


For new parents, no situation is more frightening than their healthy baby showing severe symptoms. You’re encouraged to call 911 if your baby suddenly develops breathing difficulties, if they become unresponsive, or if they show signs of anaphylaxis (breathing, speaking, or swallowing difficulties, wheezing, and/or swollen lips).

Take your baby to the emergency room if your baby suffers from open wounds or continual vomiting after a fall, a fever you can’t reduce with medication, abnormal breathing patterns, seizures or a head injury, a rash that spreads quickly, signs of dehydration, or if they stop eating.

Lacerations / Wounds / Bleeding


Head to the emergency room if you think a wound needs stitches. 911 is only necessary if you have suffered from an injury and cannot stop the bleeding.

Broken Bones / Fractures / Sprains / Bleeding

A broken bone typically requires a trip to the emergency room. Call 911 only if the broken limb has contorted or the break itself is otherwise obviously visible.

Stroke / Seizure


A stroke is a severe medical emergency that requires immediate care. Signs of stroke, such as swallowing difficulties, numbness or weakness that develops rapidly, a severe and sudden headache, and rapid sight difficulties, always require a call to 911.

You only need to call 911 for a seizure if the sufferer is currently pregnant, has never experienced a seizure previously, has been diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes, cannot wake up or struggles to breathe following the seizure, experienced the seizure while in water, experienced the seizure for more than five minutes, suffered an injury during the seizure, or they develop an additional seizure shortly after the first. Otherwise, take them to the emergency room.

Head injuries

You can proceed to the emergency room if you find that the discomfort from your head injury has not subsided, even after several minutes have passed. We also recommend going to the emergency room if you regularly take blood thinning medication, you feel ill after the injury has occurred, you were hit with excessive speed and/or force, you fell unconscious for under one minute, a dent is in your head, you have blurry vision for more than five minutes, you experience swelling, or you develop an extreme headache that won’t subside.

Sometimes a head injury’s severity isn’t immediately apparent. If you have suffered a head injury within the past 24 hours, the following symptoms necessitate an immediate trip to the emergency room:

  • Struggling to maintain your balance and/or walk
  • Struggling to awaken from sleep
  • Numbness in any area of the body
  • Persistent drowsiness
  • Struggling to write, read, or speak
  • Memory loss
  • Severe behavioral or mood changes
  • Eye movement or sight changes
  • Nose or ear discharge

Seizures, blacking out for longer than one full minute, and open wounds or skull trauma all require a 911 call.

Other Reasons to Call 911

There are numerous other health issues that may necessitate a 911 call. Dial immediately if you or a loved one experiences the following:

  • You are by yourself and cannot safely drive to the emergency room
  • You cannot transport the individual without risking further injury
  • Choking
  • Vomiting or coughing up blood
  • The urge to commit murder or suicide
  • Pressure or pain in the upper abdomen
  • Persistent or severe vomiting
  • Consumption of anything poisonous
  • Sudden vision problems
  • Sudden weakness
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Severe and sudden pain

Your health and well being has always been our main priority. The main thing to remember when experiencing a health emergency is to remain calm and make rational decisions. Always remember, when in doubt, call 911.