Whether your child is still adjusting to his or her new frame following a growth spurt or is simply the "leap before you look" type, you may find yourself providing first aid for a higher-than-average number of bumps, bruises, and contusions. And while many of these injuries (like stubbed toes, scraped knees and elbows, and small bruises) need only a bit of rest or antibiotic ointment to promote healing, other injuries may appear more serious. How should you treat injuries that fall in this grey area—too severe for home care, yet not quite worthy of an emergency-room visit? Read on to learn more about evaluating your child's injuries, along with your semi-emergency treatment options.
Which injuries can (and should) be treated at home?
Many common childhood injuries are fairly minor and shouldn't require medical intervention—even head injuries. If your child quickly returns to play, doesn't exhibit signs of confusion or lethargy, and doesn't complain of pain or discomfort after a few hours have passed, it's unlikely the injury will require further follow-up.
For injuries involving a break in the skin, it is important to thoroughly clean the wound, apply antibiotic ointment, and protect the area with a bandage if possible. Because children aren't always as conscientious about washing their hands as they should be, they're at a greater risk of infection than most adults, and ensuring that the body's first line of defense (the skin) remains protected is vital.
When should you seek professional care for an injury?
No one knows your child better than you do—so trusting your gut instincts when it comes to your child's health and well-being is a crucial part of being a parent. If you're ever left with lingering doubts after quickly treating your child's injury at home, you'll want to call your pediatrician (during office hours) or a 24-hour nurse line sponsored by your healthcare plan or local hospital. These trained professionals can help you evaluate your child's symptoms and determine whether additional treatment is needed.
In other cases, it's more clear that an injury needs extra care. If your child has a cut that won't stop bleeding after several minutes, even when pressure is applied, this cut is likely to need stitches. Head injuries that cause your child to lose consciousness—even for just a moment—or leave your child sleepy or confused should be evaluated through an MRI or CT scan to ensure there's no permanent damage. And a limb or other appendage that is unable to bear weight or move on its own accord often points to a broken bone.
Fortunately, the majority of these injuries can be inexpensively treated at a walk-in or urgent care clinic, rather than the emergency room. The doctors and nurses on staff at these clinics are able to set broken bones, take X-rays, suture cuts, and engage in other diagnostic and curative practices often unavailable at your pediatrician's office. Contact local clinics like the West Ocean City Injury & Illness Center for more information.