When to Go to the Emergency Room

August 02, 2023
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When an injury or illness comes up all of a sudden—like an unexpected fall or an onset of chest pains or fever—many people feel uncertain about what to do. When your symptoms seem serious and your regular primary care provider's office is closed, you might be left wondering ”should I go to the ER?” 

When Should You Go to the Emergency Room?

If the situation requires immediate medical treatment, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

What qualifies as immediate medical treatment needing emergency care? These are the signs that you should go to the ER: 

  • Severe bleeding 
  • Chest pains 
  • Inability to breathe 
  • Severe eye injuries 
  • Head, spinal cord or back injuries 
  • Broken bones 
  • Severe stomach pain 
  • Sudden change in mental state, sudden severe headache, other stroke symptoms

Find the nearest Baystate Health emergency department.

In addition to the above injuries and conditions, local emergency rooms are seeing more flu patients than they have in decades. Adults and children with typical flu symptoms can manage their illness at home with the support of their primary care physician. However, those at high risk of serious complications of the flu – those over 65, with chronic health conditions, pregnant people, and children younger than 2 – should consider visiting the emergency room.

If you have emergency symptoms of the flu, you should go to the emergency room for care. For adults these include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse
  • Not urinating
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe weakness or unsteadiness
  • Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions.

For children, emergency symptoms of the flu include:

  • Inconsolable irritability
  • Labored breathing and a persistent cough
  • Neck stiffness
  • Confusion

When Should You Not Go to the ER?

If your condition or injury requires professional care, but will not get worse if not immediately treated, you can hold off on the ER visit and make an appointment to see your primary care physician or visit a walk-in care center.

Illness or injuries appropriate for walk-in care include:

  • Colds, coughs, flu, fever, sore throat
  • Asthma and upper respiratory problems
  • Severe cuts that require stiches
  • Rash, skin and eye infections
  • Urinary tract infections/ pain or burning when urinating
  • Earaches
  • Migraine headaches
  • Strains and sprains
  • Stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting

Your primary care physician should be your first choice for routine medical care and for urgent illness or injury that is not life-threatening. If you are not feeling well, call your doctor's office for guidance. You should also keep your primary care physician informed of any walk-in care or emergency room visits so they can better coordinate your care on an ongoing basis.

Call your primary care practice to be seen for new or ongoing symptoms for:

  • Cough, cold, flu
  • Ear infections and sore throat
  • Skin problems
  • Urinary tract infections/ pain or burning when urinating

Your primary care doctor can also help you coordinate care for chronic conditions like:

  • Allergies and asthma
  • Issues with control of chronic conditions (for example: arthritis, COPD, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity)

Find your Baystate Health provider.

Walk-In Care vs. Emergency Room

It's a common question: What is the difference between walk-in care options and emergency care? When should you choose to go to one over the other?

Walk-in care centers—like Baystate Health’s Convenient Care—are for conditions or injury that require professional care but will not get worse if not immediately treated. For example, cold & flu symptoms, strains & sprains, or rashes.

The emergency room is for conditions or injury that require immediate medical attention, such as severe bleeding, chest pains or trouble breathing, broken bones, or other severe injuries or conditions. If the situation requires immediate medical treatment, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

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