When to Call an Ambulance
How to you tell the difference between a true emergency and a minor problem? Certain
symptoms are so alarming that the need for emergency care -- or even an ambulance -- is
obvious. But what should you do about more common illnesses and injuries?
Only a doctor can diagnose medical problems. But, you can protect your family's health by
learning to recognize certain symptoms.
Know which symptoms to watch for. According to the American College of Emergency
Physicians, the following are warning signs of a medical emergency:
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
- Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
- Sudden dizziness, weakness or change in vision
- Change in mental status (such as unusual behavior, confusion, difficulty arousing)
- Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body
- Bleeding that won't stop
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Coughing up or vomiting blood
- Suicidal or homicidal feelings
You should also be familiar with the symptoms of common illnesses and injuries.
Talk to your regular doctor before you have an emergency. Ask what you should do if you
think someone in your family needs emergency care. Should you call the doctor's office
first? Should he go straight to the emergency department? What should you do when the
doctor's office is closed?
Trust your instincts. Parents are usually very good at recognizing signs of unusual
behavior or other symptoms that indicate an emergency. Many other factors, including the
time of day, other medical problems, or state of mind, can make an otherwise minor medical
problem an "emergency".
When to Call an Ambulance
When should you call an ambulance instead of driving to the emergency department? Ask
yourself the following questions:
- Is the victim's condition life-threatening?
- Could the victim's condition worsen and become life-threatening on the way to the
- Could moving the victim cause further injury?
- Does the victim need the skills or equipment of paramedics or emergency medical
- Would distance or traffic conditions cause a delay in getting the victim to the
If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" or if you are unsure. it's best
to call an ambulance. This is true even though you can sometimes get to the hospital
faster by driving than by calling an ambulance. Paramedics and emergency medical
technicians communicate with the physician in the emergency department by radio. They are
trained to begin medical treatment on the way to the hospital. This prevents any delay
that could occur if the patient is driven to the emergency department. The ambulance can
also alert the emergency department of the patient's condition in advance.
If you live in a community with a single emergency number, calling for help is easy. Just
dial 9-1-1. If your community does not have the 9-1-1 emergency number, keep the numbers
of the fire, police, and emergency medical services near your telephone. When you call for
help, speak calmly and clearly. Give your name, the address, phone number, location of
victim (such as upstairs in the bedroom) and the nature of the problem. Don't hang up
until the dispatcher tells you to. They may need additional information or need to give