Should You Go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care?

Here’s where to find care based on your symptoms or scenario

Photo: Doctor checking child

Whether you've taken a painful tumble, were bit by a dog or had a foreign object enter your eye, determining if your case calls for a trip to the urgent care or emergency room isn't always easy. Here, we outline five common symptoms or injury scenarios that require immediate care – and where you should head for treatment.

Scenario #1: You're experiencing diarrhea, an inability to hold down liquid or food, stomach cramps and dehydration.
You should go to: Urgent care
Here's why: Doctors at your local urgent care center can determine if you've contracted food poisoning or a stomach bug and treat you accordingly. They can also prescribe medicine to help you stop your vomiting, if need be, and treat dehydration with IV fluids.

Scenario #2: You've been bit by a dog or another animal and you're bleeding and in pain.
You should go to: Urgent care
Here's why: Wounds can be cleaned and treated by doctors at an urgent care facility, and they can also check for damage to nerves or tendons and provide stitches if necessary. Doctors can also prescribe antibiotics and advise whether a rabies shot is necessary.

Scenario #3: A foreign object recently entered your eye and you've been blinking a lot since. You've flushed the eye out with water and tried to remove the object, but it's not budging.
You should go to: Urgent care
Here's why: Doctors at urgent care facilities are trained to remove foreign objects and can also inspect the eye to see if the cornea has been scratched or any other damage was sustained.

Scenario #4: You've got chest pain, shortness of breath and are sweaty and nauseous. Although you think it could be a heart attack, someone you know experienced similar symptoms recently and it was only a panic attack.
You should go to: The emergency room
Here's why: Always assume chest pain could be a heart attack (even if it's simply indigestion or a panic attack) and treat the situation seriously. The best way to get to the ER is by an ambulance, so call 911 instead of driving. An EMT can begin to treat you up to an hour sooner than if you'd be treated at the ER if you arrived by car, according to the American Heart Association.

Scenario #5: You've slipped on a wet floor and fell on your arm. It's now painful and swollen, and your fingers are feeling numb. You worry your wrist is broken.
You should go to: Urgent care
Here's why: At an urgent care facility, you can receive an X-ray to determine if your wrist is sprained or broken. If it's broken, you can be fitted with a cast. A sprain usually only requires a sling or bandage. Doctors can also prescribe prescription medication for pain, if needed.