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Summer Trips, Flips & Slips – When & Where to Seek Care

As the sun comes out and temperatures rise, injuries become more frequent. But when do you go to the emergency department, urgent care, make an appointment with your primary care provider or treat the symptoms at home?


For sunburns or burns with little or no blistering, treat symptoms at home with ibuprofen and cool soaks, and the burn will heal on its own. Only go to your primary care provider or the urgent care if you need stronger pain control after treating the symptoms at home. Burns with blisters bigger that one centimeter should be seen in the urgent care. Go to the ED for all third-degree burns, which often appear white or charred instead of pink and may not hurt much due to nerve and blood vessel damage.

Water Safety

Helmets are now standard for riding bicycles and ATVs, but there is a long way to go with water safety. Always protect yourself when in open waters by wearing a life jacket. Enclose pools on all sides as accidents happen in seconds. Call 911 if a submerged victim is unresponsive. If the victim appears fine, he or she should still visit urgent care
to be checked out.

Sprain & Strains

For minor strains or sprains, you can find relief for pain and swelling by following RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation. Rest to protect the injured area. Ice the area (do not apply ice directly to skin). Compress the area with a bandage wrap, not too tight though. Finally, elevate the injured area while applying ice. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve or Naprosyn) can help reduce pain and swelling. If you don’t see improvement within one to three days, seek care from your primary care provider or go to an urgent care for evaluation and a possible X-ray.

Spine, Back & Sports Injuries

Urgent care providers will be able to treat symptoms of overexertion and minor falls (less than six feet), but anyone experiencing a major fall should go to the ED. If you’re experiencing tingling, numbness or weakness, go to the ED as you may need advanced imaging such as a CT or MRI. Obvious injuries, such as an arm bending the wrong way, require an ED visit and will likely need more extensive pain relief.


Significant cuts through the skin should be treated in urgent care. Occasionally, you may need to see a specialist after an urgent care visit if the laceration is highly complex or involves a tendon, blood vessel or nerve.

Head Injuries

Head injuries, including concussions, need to be examined carefully by a professional. If you lose consciousness, have memory loss, experience unusual sleepiness, nausea or vomiting you need to be evaluated by a medical provider. If you seem fine after the injury, consider an urgent care visit, but if any of these symptoms are persistent, go to the ED. Children under the age of 2 with any head injury, should ALWAYS go to the ED as well as anyone over 75 or on blood-thinning medication.

Whether you’re going to urgent care, the ED or your primary care physician’s office, it’s good to keep a list of your allergies and all of your medications with you including dosages and any over-the-counter medications and vitamins. Many allergies, medications, and even vitamins, can interact with the treatment options your physician plans to use.

Brent Wesenberg, MD is a  board-certified emergency physician and is the medical director for Samaritan Urgent Care clinics in Benton and Linn counties.

Visit a Samaritan Urgent & Same Day Care Clinic.