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Ten Things: Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room

By Jason Knudson, M.D., FAAFP
Monument Health

Should I go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care if I am having chest pain?
Chest pain can be frightening and should always be taken seriously. If you are experiencing severe pain or a crushing, squeezing pressure in your chest – especially if this pain moves into your neck, left shoulder or arm – you should seek emergent medical care at the Emergency Room immediately.

Should I go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care if I have a broken bone?
Urgent Care centers are designed to quickly treat non-life-threatening injuries and conditions. While most fractures are not life-threatening, they do require immediate treatment because of the significant pain and symptoms they cause. Most fractures can be managed by an Urgent Care, and the sooner you get treatment for a fracture, the easier the treatment will be.

Should I go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care if I have cold or flu symptoms?
If you or your loved one is experiencing mild to moderate cold or flu symptoms such as cough, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, headaches, chills and fatigue, you could go to an Urgent Care. If you or a loved one is exhibiting severe warning signs of flu, such as chest pain, confusion, respiratory distress or difficulty breathing, you should go to the Emergency Room.

Should I go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care for a cut that requires stitches?
If your cut is extremely deep, is spurting bright red blood, has torn edges, is located on a joint, exposes muscles or veins, is bleeding profusely even after applying pressure, is located on the face or scalp, or contains an embedded object, you will likely need to go to an Emergency Room to get stitches. That said, Urgent Care clinics can provide wound care when stitches are required in a number of situations. In many cases, straight cuts, shallow cuts, cuts with embedded dirt or cuts that were caused by rusty or dirty objects (but are not serious and do not contain these foreign objects) can be treated by the staff at your Urgent Care center.

Should I go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care if I have a burn?
Any burn larger than the palm of your hand or burns that are 2nd degree or more, will need medical care right away. If you have any doubt about whether the burn is large or deep, it is best to see a health care provider. Third- and fourth-degree burns are best suited for the Emergency Room, while second-degree burns may be cared for at an Urgent Care. Burn patients will also need pain control, possibly a tetanus booster and sometimes even a referral to a burn center.

Should I go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care if I am having stroke symptoms?
If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms: sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis and drooping of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body, or suddenly blurred or decreased vision in one or both eyes, you should go to the Emergency Room immediately.

Should I go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care if I have a head injury?
If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms (or know somebody who is), we recommend that you go to your nearest Emergency Room immediately: Loss of consciousness, becoming confused/disoriented after the injury, suffering an injury at high speed (e.g. a car accident or a sports-related injury), vomiting or nausea, balance issues, memory loss (especially about the injury) or seizures.

Should I go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care if I was bitten by an animal?
You may want to see a doctor for any bite that breaks the skin. Any time your skin is broken, there is a risk for infection. Other reasons to see a doctor or go to an Urgent Care include: Getting bitten by an animal with an unknown vaccination history, the wound doesn’t stop bleeding, you experience an extreme amount of pain, the bite is deep enough to expose bone or muscle, the bite becomes red, swollen, and inflamed, the bite starts leaking pus.

If you don’t remember when you had your last tetanus shot, you should also seek medical care. Tetanus shots are good for up to 10 years; however, if the bite is dirty and looks infected, and your last tetanus shot was more than five years ago, the doctor may give you a booster.

Should I go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care if I was bitten by a snake?
If bitten, unless you are certain the snake is not poisonous, immediately seek emergency treatment at an Emergency Room and be prepared to describe the snake to the medical staff.

Should I go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care for my allergies?
Most seasonal allergy symptoms can be treated by an Urgent Care doctor. But if you are experiencing a severe allergic reaction and swelling of your lips or tongue, are struggling to breathe, or lose consciousness, call 911 or go directly to your nearest Emergency Room.

 

About Jason Knudson, M.D., FAAFP

Jason Knudson, M.D., FAAFP, is the Ambulatory Care Director for the Spearfish Market, practicing at Monument Health Spearfish Clinic, North 10th Street. He is a family medicine physician who has been practicing in Spearfish more than 18 years.

 

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