When is a Medical Issue an Emergency?

Deciding whether or not a medical issue is an emergency can be a conundrum for many. It’s difficult to think of the next step if you’re in an unexpected situation where someone close to you is in distress or if the patient in question is insisting that they’re just fine and their symptoms will eventually pass without issue. On one hand, there is that compelling desire to help the patient and provide them with medical attention, plus there’s the fear that their condition can worsen with time. On the other, some may think that calling for an ambulance or rushing to an emergency department is an over-reaction—one which may divert attention from other patients who may be in direr situations.

The decision to call emergency services often depends on the severity of the condition of the patient. These conditions include serious illnesses and injuries that can worsen if not treated quickly. Taking up a first aid training course in Brisbane can be helpful in determining if a medical need is an emergency or not, as such courses can cover triage and how to prioritise patients. However, there are certain clues that can help regular folks determine if a medical situation necessitates emergency response. These are:

    1. If the condition affects the brain or spine. This is typically indicated by confusion, dizziness, trouble speaking, loss of vision, numbness, severe headache, loss of consciousness, or seizures.
    2. If the patient has trouble breathing. This includes choking, pulmonary illnesses like asthma and pneumonia, and severe allergic reactions that can close the patient’s airways.

  • If the issue involves the heart. Chest pain and tightness, difficulty breathing, light headedness, nausea, cold sweat, and heartburn are some of the classic symptoms of a heart attack. The elderly may feel fatigue instead of pain, while abdominal pain may accompany these classic symptoms in some women.
  • If there is severe trauma or bleeding. Spurting blood can be a sign that an injury is life-threatening. Broken bones or any severe injury should also be treated as an emergency. In cases like these, call emergency services immediately and apply pressure on the area to control the bleeding and prevent the injury from getting worse.
  • If the injury includes severe burns. Second degree burns (affect outer and lower layer of the skin) and third degree burns (affect deeper tissue) need medical attention to avoid infection and to promote the healing of the affected area.
  • If poison is involved. Poison can come in the form of various chemicals, medicines, or even gases. Symptoms of poisoning can include drowsiness, vomiting, confusion, difficulty breathing, breath that smells of chemicals, and redness around the mouth.

Emergency departments are typically open 24 hours; they can be quite busy regardless of the time of day or night. The department uses a triage system, and patients who are brought to an emergency department are assessed to see their current condition. Severe and immediate illnesses and injuries take priority over minor ones in an emergency department. Depending on their condition, patients may be treated immediately or asked to wait. During their stay in the emergency department, patients may receive prescription and treatment, be advised to see a specialist, be admitted or observed for a while, or be transferred to another hospital.

Patients who don’t require emergency service may do well to still consult medical professionals, like their GP. If the injury or illness occurred after hours, they may benefit from the advice of an on-call doctor, after-hours clinic, or a 24/7 pharmacy. When in doubt, however, remember that it’s best to err on the side of caution and immediately seek the advice of a medical professional to ensure your health and well-being or that of your loved ones.

*This article is for informational purposes only and does constitute, replace, or qualify as RPL for our first aid training courses.