When every moment counts


In a severe medical emergency, we might tend to freeze. But when every moment counts, parents must keep a clear mind and care for a child in distress. Here are ways to respond to serious home medical emergencies while waiting for help.

Drowning.  “Babies & toddlers are at risk of drowning inside a home, in the bathtub or falling face first in a toilet, and children of all ages can become victims of drowning in pools, hot tubs or ponds,” says Kate Cronan, MD, medical editor for Nemours’ KidsHealth.org and a pediatrician at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE.

What to do: Call 911 and if you are trained, start chest compressions until help arrives.

What You Need to Know

In every instance of severe injury call 911. Using your cell phone, especially if another adult is not available, can let you  stay with your child and questions from the operator. Stay calm. A parent who is focused on the problem can better manage a scary situation.

► The American Red Cross offers a downloadable instructions for dire emergencies, including choking, administration of CPR and use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).

► Kidshealth.org provides numerous articles on first aid and household safety. 

 A MetroKids article discusses common first aid emergencies.

Poisoning. Ingestion of toxic substances includes household chemicals found in garages and kitchens as well as swallowing medications. Doctors warn parents to be particularly vigilant to keep laundry detergent pods out of reach.

What to do: If a child swallows poison and is awake, call the Poison Control Center’s National Hotline, 800-222-1222 and follow directions. However, if the child is drowsy and cannot be awakened, call 911. Do not use ipecac or attempt to induce vomiting.

Serious falls. Dr. Cronan says that falls from second story windows, balconies or other significant heights can result in head, neck or back trauma or otherserious injury.

What to do: If your child is unconscious or has difficulty breathing, do not try to move him. Get immediate help by calling 911. In the event that vomiting or seizure occur, turn child on his side, keeping the head and neck straight to avoid spinal injury. If your child is awake, keep him calm and still, cover any bleeding with a clean cloth, and wait for help to arrive.

Severe burns. Second or third degree burns resulting from scalds, chemicals or stoves need immediate medical attention.

What to do: According to KidsHealth, parents should remove any burned clothes except if stuck to the skin; apply cool (not cold water or ice) to the area for 3 to 5 minutes, cover with clean cloth and call 911.

Deadly Trends

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report these trends in deaths from child injuries from 2000 to 2009: 

  • Fire/Burn: down 45%
  • Drowning: down 28%
  • Poisoning: up 80%
  • Falls: down 19%
  • Suffocation: up 30%

Severe respiratory distress: This condition can result from severe allergic reaction, such as to peanuts.

What to do: Virtua emergency pediatrician Robert Belfer, MD, says, “A child who develops swollen lips and tongue can quickly be in respiratory distress. Call 911 and use an Epi-Pen if available until help arrives.”

Suffocation: “Children can suffocate by being strangled by cords from blinds wrapping around their neck and babies can suffocate if pillows block their airway or by being in a parent’s bed. Children under the age of 4 have the highest rate of severe household medical emergencies. There are too many deaths in the U.S. caused by suffocation,” says Dr. Cronan.

What to do: If trained to do so, start CPR until help arrives.

Mary Ann Muller is a MetroKids intern and graduate student at Rosemont College.


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