This emergencies checklist provides invaluable advice on when it is a medical emergency and when you can routinely visit your doctor.

When should I call the doctor?

Parents know their own children better than anybody. They know how their child behaves when tired, hungry and upset – so parents are usually the best judge of whether a child is unwell.

However, sometimes we are unsure whether or not it is serious enough to call the doctor.

If in doubt, call your doctor or practice nurse for advice – most childhood illnesses are minor and kids usually bounce back very quickly, but if they are seriously ill it can get worse pretty quickly.

If you have seen the doctor recently, but you are still worried, call your doctor again.

The signs or symptoms in the Check List below are all significant and mean your child needs to see a doctor:

High Temperature A raised temperature in children is significant when it goes above 39º c.In babies less than 3 months old it is significant above 38º c.
Febrile convulsions Take your child to the doctors if your child has a febrile convulsion, or has had febrile convulsions before.
Other symptoms A raised temperature combined with a rash, drowsiness, headache or neck stiffness should always be checked out by your doctor.
Tummy Troubles
Diarrhoea This is very common in children.It only needs to be reported to the doctor if it lasts longer than 6 hours, or the child also has abdominal pain, fever and is obviously unwell.
Vomiting This is also very common and can be caused by something as simple as over eating at a party!But if it lasts more than 6 hours, or the child also has a headache or right sided abdominal pain- call your doctor
Loss of appetite Active children usually have a hearty appetite, even if it is not always the food we would like them to eat!If your child loses their appetite it may be a sign that they are ‘coming down with something’- their appetite will improve as the cold/ infection resolves.In a baby however, it can be more serious- contact your doctor if your baby is not feeding and does not seem to be thriving, or if your baby has suddenly lost interest in food.
Aches and pains
Right-sided abdominal pain Most childhood aches and pains are ‘stomach related’- they usually resolve after a lie down and a visit to the toilet!But right-sided abdominal pain, with nausea, can be serious (possibly appendicitis) as can severe griping pains.
Headaches Headaches, particularly after a day in the sun, can often be resolved with a lie down and lots of water to drink.But if your child has a headache, with nausea or blurred vision, that does not resolve quickly- contact your doctor.

In what situations should you immediately phone the National Poisons Centre?

Your child has got a chemical in the eye — such as a household detergent.

Note: Immediately flush the affected eye for 15 minutes with water before any other action is taken. Meanwhile, advise the National Poisons Centre as to the nature of the substance in order that their poison specialists can assess the severity of the situation. (As a general guideline only, in the case of dishwashing liquid, it is usually fine to then monitor the child at home, whereas for more caustic preparations, like dishwasher powder, obtain an immediate eye exam by a doctor.)


Your child has been bitten by an insect / spider

Note: New Zealand has only two poisonous spider types: the Redback and the Katipo. As a general guideline only, all other bites and stings (including White Tailed spider bites) can be managed at home with good wound care to prevent infection and close monitoring for allergic reaction.


Your child has eaten any potentially poisonous berries, or swallowed tablets or chemicals.

If you suspect a case of poisoning (medicine, chemical, plant, hazardous creatures), then immediately phone the National Poisons Centre for advice on 0800 764 766 (0800 POISON). This 0800 number is serviced 24 x 7, with most calls answered within 5 rings and resolved in less than 2 minutes.

The National Poisons Centre can give you immediate first aid advice and also facilitate medical management should your child need to go to hospital.

When should we go to the hospital for an emergency?

The following situations are serious and your child needs to go immediately to hospital for treatment:

Breathing difficulties, blue lips, severe asthma attacks
Your child is unconscious
Your child has a serious burn
A deep wound that may need stitching
Your child may have broken a bone
An object such as a toy/ tool has pierced the child’s eye, ear or nose
Your child is at risk of a severe allergic reaction

What does the doctor need to know in an emergency?

Initially the doctor will ask you some questions about your child, as well as examining them, in order to find out the cause of the symptoms.

They will want to know your child’s age, whether they have had a fever, recent diarrhoea / vomiting, loss of appetite, any kind of pain or loss of consciousness.

The doctor will also want to know the details of any accident that may have occurred.

What can I do in an emergency?

If your child is prone to certain recurring conditions, it is helpful to find out as much as possible about the condition, the early symptoms and ways that you can prevent them from getting worse. Parents can get this advice from doctors, support groups and other health professionals such as Plunket nurses and practice nurses.

Each health article in this section has information on what you can do to help your child’s symptoms at home.

Useful Articles

There are some great Kiwi Families articles on Ear, Nose, Throat & Respiratory conditions – click on the link to find out more about your child’s illness.

Allergic Conditions can be very worrying for families. Our Allergies section has some great information and advice.

Useful Websites


Website of the NZ National Poisons Centre, part of the University of Otago. This website is intended for Parents and Caregivers.


Includes a comprehensive First Aid information database for the general public containing over 170,000 listed chemical products, pharmaceuticals, plants and hazardous creatures.

0 0 votes
Article Rating

This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x