• General Pediatrics
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Pediatric Primary Care
  • Primary & Complex Care
  • Urgent Care

Many children who get sick or suffer a minor injury will recover with home care, but some may need medical attention. What should you do if your child is sick, and how do you know if it’s time to call their pediatrician or go to the urgent care or emergency department (ED)? 

Read on for advice from the experts at Phoenix Children’s.

Where should I go for my child’s medical care?

Whether it’s an illness caused by RSV or an injury like a sprain, the answer may not always be clear-cut — especially when it comes to infants and young children. Knowing the major differences between a pediatrician’s office, urgent care clinic and ED and where to go based on symptoms can help.

A pediatrician is a primary care provider who is specially trained to diagnose and treat childhood illnesses and diseases. They are also trained in understanding how well your child is doing when it comes to physical, mental, social and emotional health.

“They will schedule regular appointments for your child every few months or annually, depending on your child’s age, to come in for wellness checkups to ensure your child is indeed as healthy as they can be,” explains Dr. Reina Patel, a pediatric hospitalist at Phoenix Children’s.

Urgent care centers provide care for non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries. They are open late on weeknights, weekends and holidays when typical primary care offices are closed. You should seek medical attention for your child at an urgent care when your child’s primary care provider or pediatrician is not available, and your child cannot wait for a future appointment.

“The medical staff at urgent care centers are able to prescribe medications, when needed, and are able to operate X-rays, perform throat or nose swabs, and use urine studies to make appropriate diagnoses and treatment plans,” said Dr. Priya Prasher, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Phoenix Children’s.

Not all urgent care centers may be equipped to treat babies and young children. It’s best to locate either a pediatric urgent care near you or an urgent care close by that can provide care to your child when the need arises.

Emergency departments are designed to evaluate and treat severe or potentially life-threatening illness or injury, such as significant difficulty breathing, broken bone or traumatic injury. Emergency departments are open 24 hours, 7 days a week and have access to labs and imaging services not available outside of a hospital setting.

When should I take my child to the emergency department?

There are many conditions and situations that may warrant bringing your child to an Emergency Department. If possible, take your child to a pediatric emergency room like one at Phoenix Children’s, which is staffed by pediatric emergency doctors and have child-sized medical equipment.

Here are some reasons to take your child to the emergency room:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Asthma attacks
  • Blurred vision or loss of vision
  • Broken bones and/or dislocated joints
  • Serious burns from fire, hot liquid, chemicals or electricity
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Concussion
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Disorientation or difficulty speaking
  • Fainting, loss of consciousness or unresponsive (won’t wake up)
  • Fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in children younger than 2 months or with underlying conditions
  • Fever accompanied by a rash
  • Overdose of any type of medication
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden dizziness or loss of coordination
  • Sudden numbness or weakness
  • Swallow a poisonous substance, such as laundry pods
  • Traumatic head or eye injury
  • Wounds that are large, deep or gaping and/or won’t stop bleeding

When should I take my child to an urgent care?

If care cannot wait until your pediatrician’s office reopens, an urgent care can manage the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Allergic reactions that are mild
  • Animal bites
  • Back and joint pain
  • Burning when they go pee
  • Dehydration
  • Eye irritation, swelling or pain
  • Fever
  • Foreign objects in ears or nose
  • Headaches, earaches or sinus pain
  • Minor bumps, cuts, scrapes and burns
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Pink eye
  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Sore throat
  • Sprains and strains
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath

It’s important to note that urgent care centers are not meant for chronic or ongoing issues unless your child has a flare-up of symptoms. These types of issues should be seen by your child’s provider.

When should my child see their pediatrician?

If your child is sick during normal business hours (and even sometimes after-hours), your child’s primary care provider should be your first choice as they can see you for almost all medical problems.

“Your child’s doctor knows your child and family best, and they’ll know whether an urgent care or emergency department is a better option,” Dr. Patel said. “Some practices have on-call physician or a nurse advice lines as well as online portals, so they can help guide you and walk you through what to do and what to look for based on your child’s symptoms.”

Your child’s provider can manage the following symptoms:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Burning when they pee
  • Checkups and well-child visits
  • Ear infections
  • Fevers for two to three days in a row for older children (if under two months, seek emergency care)
  • Headaches, earaches or sinus pain
  • Immunizations and shots
  • Injuries with mild or minor pain
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Pink eye
  • Rashes
  • Respiratory illnesses and viruses including things like the common cold, croup, flu, bronchiolitis, pneumonia and RSV
  • Sore throat
  • School and sports physicals
  • Urinary issues
  • Fevers for two to three days in a row for older children (if under two months, seek emergency care)
  • Respiratory illnesses and viruses including things like the common cold, croup, flu, bronchiolitis, pneumonia and RSV

Why should I take my child to a pediatric emergency department or urgent care?

It’s important that your child receives the right care when they are sick or injured. Kids with serious injuries and illnesses fare much better in pediatric emergency departments as opposed to adult facilities.

In both a pediatric emergency department and a pediatric urgent care, your child is being seen by physicians, nurses and staff with specialized training in care for children. A pediatric facility has equipment and protocols specifically designed with kids in mind to give your child the best and most comfortable care possible. 

At Phoenix Children’s, our facilities are set up specifically for the needs of children. Our health care providers, nurses and support staff are prepared to treat your child for everything from minor emergencies such as fevers, cuts and sprains to life-threatening injuries.

Can I trust my child is being taken to the proper facility in an emergency?

If your child is being transported in an emergency vehicle to receive care, it is important to understand that Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers are specially trained to evaluate patients and take them to the nearest appropriate hospital. This means that EMS providers may not necessarily take your child to the closest hospital but will take them to the closest hospital with the best care for your child’s specific needs. EMS providers are skilled professionals whose expertise includes determining a patient’s required level of care. These decisions are also made with hospital capacity and other factors in mind. Trust your EMS providers to take your child to the appropriate location.

Find the closest Phoenix Children’s Emergency Department or Phoenix Children’s Urgent Care location:

Phoenix Children’s Hospital – Thomas Campus

Phoenix Children’s Emergency Department – Avondale Campus

  • The Phoenix Children’s Emergency Department – Avondale Campus opened in July 2023, bringing much-needed emergency services to West Valley families. 
  • The Phoenix Children's – Avondale Campus is made up of the 35,000-square-foot emergency department, plus a 71,250-square-foot, three-story medical office building that opened in December 2022.
  • The emergency department offers 24/7 emergency services, with access to 40 treatment rooms, and around-the-clock lab and imaging services.  It is staffed with board-certified pediatric emergency medicine specialists with the necessary training and expertise to care for critically ill babies, kids and teens.

Phoenix Children's East Valley Urgent Care

Phoenix Children's Northwest Valley Urgent Care

Phoenix Children's Scottsdale Urgent Care

Phoenix Children’s Urgent Care (Mesa)