Emergency rooms might make terrific settings for television drama, but you should avoid making a cameo appearance at the ER unless it's necessary. For some health emergencies, the ER is the way to go. But for other ailments, your best bet might be a visit to an urgent care center.
When sudden illness or injury strikes — such as this year's flu epidemic — how do you know where to go, and when? Methodist Health System breaks it down for you.
The difference between urgent care and the emergency room
Generally, urgent care is appropriate when your regular primary care physician is unavailable but you need to be seen right away. An ER, however, is staffed and equipped for life-threatening, complex, and critical situations.
When you should go to urgent care
Urgent care centers are a good fit for injuries that need immediate attention, but your life isn't in danger: sprains, cuts and burns, back pain, and eye injuries. The same goes for illnesses, which can include colds, the flu, earaches, sore throats, bladder and urinary tract infections, migraines, low-grade fevers, and limited rashes. If the severity of any of these ailments is extreme, then you will be directed or transported to an emergency room.
When you should go to the ER
If a person could die or become permanently disabled, then it's imperative that you go to the emergency room. A few symptoms to look out for include:
- Trouble breathing
- Pain in the arm or jaw
- Suddenly not being able to speak, see, walk, or move
- Sudden weakness or drooping on one side of the body
- Smoke or poisonous fumes inhalation
- Heavy bleeding or deep wounds
- Fractures, especially where the bone is visible
- Severe allergic reactions (hives or trouble breathing)
If you're unsure about whether an illness or injury is life-threatening, never hesitate to call 911.
Why you should visit your PCP regularly
Establishing a relationship with your primary care provider, and receiving preventative treatment throughout the year, is important for several reasons. Your PCP can identify warning signs with your health and be alert to any unusual or sudden changes. In turn, that can help you recognize when something isn't right in your body. Need a PCP? Find one here.