You know to call 9-1-1 for help from the police, ambulance, or fire department if there's a crime, car crash, or fire, but what about medical situations? When should you call 9-1-1, rush to the emergency room, or make an appointment with your doctor?
Before an emergency happens, it’s good to know what constitutes a true emergency. After all, you don't want to pay unnecessary ER bills, but you also don't want to put anyone's life at risk. If you're ever in doubt, the rule of thumb is to go ahead and call 9-1-1 and let the dispatcher determine if it's an emergency.
As you consider a situation, keep in mind a medical emergency is one that threatens a life or limb. Getting prompt medical care is necessary to prevent death or serious injury. You can usually tell if something is an emergency by the amount of pain someone's in, the extent of an injury, or how quickly a medical condition is worsening.
In most cases, here's when you should call 9-1-1.
Any time someone has trouble breathing and it doesn't improve with rest, you’re dealing with a medical emergency. Examples include shortness of breath, gasping, or choking due to COPD, asthma, lung disease, infections, an allergic reaction, injury, heart attack, drowning, or having an object stuck in the airways. Get help fast!
Heavy bleeding is a clear sign of a medical emergency. When there's abnormal amounts of blood coming from the nose, mouth, rectum, vagina, or a wound that doesn't stop with pressure, call 9-1-1.
Chest pain that feels like pressure or squeezing and lasts more than a few minutes may signal a heart attack and requires prompt medical care. The pain may also be felt in the arms, back, jaw, neck, or stomach. Other pains may also indicate an emergency. Sudden, severe bodily pain, an intense headache like none you've ever felt, or feelings of extreme hot or cold also signal an emergency situation. Get to the ER immediately.
Call 9-1-1 when someone suddenly passes out with no apparent cause or loses consciousness and is unresponsive. Dizziness, weakness, and a change in vision are also considered emergency situations.
Some wounds can be treated at home, but wounds that require emergency medical treatment include those that don't stop bleeding after direct pressure or are deep, gaping, or jagged; expose a broken bone; sever an extremity; are on the eyeball; are due to an animal bite; have an object stuck in them; or were caused by something metal. In addition, if a wounded person is having trouble breathing, is in severe pain, has a weak pulse, experiences shallow or rapid breathing, or has clammy, cold skin call 9-1-1.
Scalding liquids, open flames, electricity, or chemicals can all cause burns. Mild or severe burns that affect the eyes, hands, feet, mouth, or genital areas, as well as burns that cover large areas of the body, are deep, or are caused by electricity or chemicals should receive emergency medical attention. See a doctor promptly if the burned area shows sign of infection—fever, stinky drainage, swelling, redness, or discoloration.
Someone who suddenly has trouble walking or talking, seeing clearly, seems confused, has muscle weakness, or acts strangely may be experiencing a stroke. The sooner a stroke victim receives medical treatment the lower the risk for lasting complications. If you witness these symptoms, it’s an emergency situation. Get help!