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Is it an Emergency?

One of every three children brought to the SickKids Emergency Department doesn’t need emergency care. Learn how to distinguish between an emergency and non-emergency before you bring your child to the Emergency Department. 

Many children brought to our Emergency department are not in need of urgent care. They have ear aches, flu, colds or a bit of fever. Problems like these can be looked after by a family doctor, paediatrician or community health centre.

Talk to your family doctor about what to do if your child gets sick. Make a plan with them about who you should call when your doctor isn’t available.

A child with a cold may have:

  • a fever under 39 C or 102 F for one or two days
  • a stuffy or runny nose a cough
  • These signs usually last five to 10 days.

If your child is active, playful and eating well, you probably do not need a doctor.

Call the doctor when a baby under three months has a fever.

Also call a doctor if your child has a cold with any of these signs:

  • a fever that lasts more than a day or two, especially with poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea or lack of playfulness
  • a fever over 39 C or 102 F
  • a fever that keeps coming back

Call a doctor right away if your child shows any of the following symptoms. If you can't reach a doctor, take your child to the emergency department of your local hospital right away.

  • When your child has diarrhea and vomiting, and has no tears, dry mouth, or is not peeing.
  • When your baby under three months of age has a fever over 38 C or 100.4 F.
  • When your child has difficulty breathing.
  • When your child develops a rash that does not turn white when you push on it.
  • When your child has a fever and is difficult to wake up or is very sleepy.

You can call these numbers anytime day or night. All of these services are free of charge.

  • If you’re concerned that your child has ingested something poisonous, contact the Ontario Poison Centre at 1-800-268-9017 or 416-813-5900.
  • If you want advice about a health problem or illness, contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000.
  • If you want general information about children’s health from SickKids experts, visit AboutKidsHealth. These resources are created by SickKids clinicians and staff on a variety of children's health topics.

About Kids Health logo

AboutKidsHealth is a health education website for children, youth and their caregivers, with trusted answers from SickKids experts. Learn about common conditions and injuries often treated in the Emergency Department Learning Hub.

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