It is summertime, which means a season of fun in the sun, outdoor activities and unfortunately, plenty of chances for injury or illness. Whether you or a loved one experience a bad sunburn, slip and fall at the pool, or contract food poisoning from a meal that has been sitting for too long in the sun, there are many pitfalls associated with summer activities.
So how do you know when your symptoms are serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency department? Dr. Sean Sue, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Piedmont Hospital, shares the following tips for making the choice between waiting to see your primary care physician and visiting the hospital’s emergency department.
When to visit the emergency department
There are several conditions for which a trip to the emergency room is your best plan of action.
“If you are experiencing chest pain, especially with shortness of breath or sweating, you should definitely come to the emergency department,” says Dr. Sue. “Anyone with neurological symptoms, including weakness on one side of the body, confusion, the inability to see, numbness or tingling should also come to the ER so we can make sure they don’t have acute stroke.”
In addition to those with chest pain or neurological symptoms, he says anyone with severe abdominal pain in conjunction with fever or vomiting should make a trip to the emergency department.
When to see your primary care physician
“If anyone is concerned that they have a medical emergency, we are happy to see the patient,” he says.
However, if you have a chronic health issue for which you are already seeing your primary care physician and are not experiencing any new symptoms, visiting the ER may not be the most beneficial course of action.
“In the ER, we can treat your symptoms, but you may be given tests that are not medically necessary to rule out emergency conditions,” says Dr. Sue. “As a disclaimer: if you have a chronic problem, but something has changed and something new has occurred, the ER is the best place to go.”
Every minute counts
If you believe you are experiencing a medical emergency, timing is important when deciding whether or not to visit the emergency department or call 911.
“When it comes to neurological problems, the sooner the better. If someone is unable to drive you, you should come by EMS,” says Dr. Sue. “With chest pain, we say ‘time is muscle,’ so the quicker you can come to the ER, the better. With most interventions, the quicker they are done, the better your prognosis.”
If you are experiencing abdominal pain, there is no exact timeframe for how long you should wait, so base your decision on your symptoms. If the pain is excruciating, you have fainted, or you have uncontrolled vomiting or high fever, it is a good idea to visit the emergency department.
Piedmont Hospital is equipped to efficiently handle a variety of cases, particularly cardiac and neurological conditions.
“We provide every cardiac treatment other hospitals offer. Additionally, we offer stroke alert, where we have neurologists and interventional radiologists who provide stroke care that many other hospitals cannot provide,” he says.
Dr. Sue’s take-home message?
“The main thing with the emergency department is if anyone is concerned they have an emergency, we are happy to see the patient,” he explains. “[However], people need to realize our job is to rule out emergencies and life-threatening conditions, so many times a patient may not leave with a formal diagnosis. This doesn’t mean nothing is wrong, but that the patient needs further evaluation by his or her primary care physician.”