So you're sick -- or someone you care about is sick, or injured. How can urgent care be helpful? And what are some of the symptoms or warning signs that signal you shouldn't “tough out” the illness or injury at home?
In general, the definition of the need for urgent care is if you have an injury or illness that demands immediate attention -- yet isn’t urgent enough to justify a trip to an actual hospital emergency room (ER) or emergency department.
An injury that is truly life-threatening – a cardiac event, for instance, a serious or compound bone fracture, a dramatic injury to the head – are all best treated at a hospital emergency room.
On the other hand, a household cut or burn, a persistent low-grade fever, flu-like symptoms, or joint sprains can all be easily treated at urgent care. And while urgent care centers generally aren’t open 24 hours a day, most of them open early and close late.
Here are some of the conditions for which a trip to a conveniently located urgent care is a good solution:
- Cold or flu symptoms: Nasal congestion, sneezing and runny nose, low-grade fever, sore throats, and chills can all be easily treated at urgent care.
- Earaches: An ear infection can be serious if left untreated, and urgent care can provide the proper treatment, or provide a prescription for an antibiotic.
- Foreign objects: A cinder or speck of dust in your eye can feel like a boulder when you can’t flush it out and your eyes are red and irritated. And children are known for getting pieces of toys and games stuck in the strangest places -- including up their noses and inside their ears. These are routine issues for urgent-care staff.
- Migraine headaches: Migraine victims often need prescription pain medication stronger than the average headache sufferer requires. Urgent care can provide them.
- Burns: A household burn can be incredibly painful, but it’s easily treated at urgent care. Serious (third-degree) burns are better treated at the emergency room.
- Sprains: If you’ve hurt your wrist or turned an ankle on the tennis court or the front stair, urgent care is fine. Same thing with a pulled back muscle, a bad bruise or bump from a fall, or simple household accident.
- Breathing difficulties: Allergy or asthma attacks that are making it difficult to breathe and may require either medication or a prescription inhaler can be handled at urgent care.
- Cuts: They’re among the most common household injuries, and as long as the bleeding is controllable, they can be handled at urgent care – including those that may need a few stitches.
- Abdominal pain, nausea, or diarrhea: Urgent care is equipped to dispense anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medications. If the pain is severe, and appendicitis is a possibility, or if you’ve been so ill that you’re dehydrated, the emergency room could be a better option.
- Rashes: Urgent care can address skin irritations or eruptions caused by poison oak, poison ivy, and/or minor food allergies.
In summary, an injury that might permanently impair or endanger an individual’s life is best handled by an emergency room – including seizures or loss of consciousness, serious head or neck injuries, poisonings, knife or gunshot wounds, or fever in newborns.
However, with more “everyday” medical matters, urgent care can handle pretty much any and all nonlife-threatening conditions. And chances are, there’s one near you.