Should I Go to the ER After a Car Accident?

When to Go to the ER

May 7, 2024


After a car accident, your body’s adrenaline rush might hide pain and injuries at first. Should I go to the ER after a car accident? The best rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention.

That said, here are some situations when it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention:

  • You’re experiencing severe pain or discomfort
  • You have visible physical injuries, such as deep cuts or uncontrolled bleeding
  • You’re feeling dizzy, confused, or have lost consciousness at any point after the accident
  • You have difficulty breathing or chest pain
  • You’re pregnant

Complete Care is here to help you understand when a trip to the ER is necessary after a car accident. Understanding when to seek auto accident treatment can help you to make a swift recovery.

You should seek emergency medical care if you’re experiencing:

1. Severe pain or discomfort

Car accidents can cause severe pain from trauma to bones, muscles, or organs. Even minor accidents can cause hidden injuries such as whiplash or wrist injuries from the airbag deploying. Whiplash is the most common car accident injury and doesn’t show symptoms right away.

Healthcare professionals will likely conduct tests like X-rays and CT scans to diagnose the cause of your pain. Muscle strain treatment can include pain medication, physical rehabilitation therapy, or surgery. The main goal of any treatment plan is to manage pain, repair injuries, and restore normal function safely and swiftly.

2. Visible physical injuries

Visible physical injuries such as cuts, bruises, eye injuries, or broken bones indicate the need for immediate medical attention. These injuries can reveal the severity of the impact and might require specialized treatments to heal properly. 

For example, deep lacerations may need stitches to prevent infection, while broken bones might require immobilization or surgery to ensure they heal in the correct position. 

Visible injuries can lead to more complex health issues if not treated promptly and adequately.  An emergency room can assess the damage and recommend the best course of action for recovery.

3. Loss of consciousness or dizziness

Feeling dizzy or passing out after a car accident might mean you have a concussion, a brain injury, or you’re in shock. These symptoms might not appear immediately but can manifest hours or even days after the accident. 

Here are some key symptoms to be aware of:

  • Headaches or migraines that persist or worsen over time
  • Confusion or difficulty remembering recent events
  • Changes in mood or behavior, such as increased irritability or depression
  • Sleep disturbances, including sleeping more or less than usual
  • Sensitivity to light and noise, often leading to discomfort in everyday environments
  • Nausea or vomiting, especially when not related to another known cause
  • Blurred vision or difficulty focusing, which may not be apparent immediately after the accident
  • Balance issues or dizziness, making it hard to walk or stand steadily
  • Fatigue or feeling more tired than usual, even with adequate rest

Medical professionals will conduct neurological exams, and possibly imaging tests, to assess the extent of the injury and determine the appropriate treatment plan. The focus will be on stabilizing your condition, managing symptoms, and preventing any long-term complications.

Read more about the different types of head injuries and when to go to hospital for a concussion.

4. Difficulty breathing or chest pain

Difficulty breathing or experiencing chest pain (both right and left side pain) after an accident should never be ignored, as these can be signs of severe internal injuries or complications. These symptoms could indicate issues like rib fractures, lung contusions, or even more serious conditions such as pneumothorax (collapsed lung) or cardiac contusion. Immediate medical attention is crucial to properly diagnose and treat these conditions. 

Healthcare providers may use chest X-rays, CT scans, or other diagnostic tests to evaluate the extent of the injuries and determine the best course of action. Ignoring these symptoms can lead to critical outcomes, emphasizing the importance of prompt and thorough medical evaluation following any sign of chest pain or breathing difficulties after an accident.

5. You are currently pregnant

If you are pregnant and involved in an accident, it’s pivotal to seek immediate medical attention for car accident treatment, even if you feel fine. The impact, or even the stress, from an accident, can potentially cause complications such as placental abruption, preterm labor, or other issues that may not present immediate symptoms. 

Your care team at the ER can monitor the health of both you and your baby, ensuring that any hidden injuries or stress responses are identified and managed properly. Regular monitoring and appropriate medical care can significantly reduce the risk of complications following an accident, safeguarding both your well-being and that of your unborn child. 

Always err on the side of caution and consult with a healthcare provider after any accident during pregnancy.

Which is better: The ER or urgent care after a car accident?

Deciding whether to visit the emergency room or urgent care after a car accident hinges on the severity of your injuries and the level of care you require. 

The ER is better suited for life-threatening injuries or conditions that demand immediate and comprehensive medical attention, offering access to a wide range of medical equipment and specialist care. However, this also means that wait times can be significantly longer, especially for non-critical injuries, due to the prioritization of more severe cases.

On the other hand, urgent care centers are more adept at treating non-life-threatening injuries or conditions. These facilities typically have shorter wait times compared to the ER and can efficiently handle a variety of issues, from minor cuts and fractures to mild concussions. While urgent care centers have essential medical equipment, their resources might not be as extensive as those available in an ER.

If your car accident injuries are not life-threatening, a freestanding ER offers a third alternative, combining the less crowded environment of an urgent care center with the advanced medical capabilities of a traditional ER. 

These facilities can provide immediate care with potentially shorter wait times and have access to a broad array of medical equipment and services. However, it’s crucial to verify that the freestanding ER is in-network for your insurance to avoid unexpected expenses.

What symptoms should I look for after a car accident?

If you’ve been in a car accident, monitor your physical and emotional health closely in the following days for any emerging symptoms. Here are important signs that warrant a medical consultation:

  • Persistent headache or migraine: This could signal a concussion or more severe brain injury.
  • Numbness or tingling sensations: These symptoms could indicate nerve damage or spinal cord injury, particularly if experienced in the arms, legs, or extremities.
  • Difficulty remembering or concentrating: Problems with memory or focus can be symptomatic of a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • Changes in personality or mood: Mood swings, anxiety, or depression can emerge after an accident, possibly indicative of both physical injury and psychological impact.
  • Abdominal pain or swelling: These could be signs of internal bleeding, which might not be immediately apparent post-accident.
  • Visible signs of injury: Bruises, cuts, or swelling that worsen instead of improving over time need medical evaluation to prevent infection or other complications.
  • Stiffness or reduced range of motion: Difficulty moving or persistent stiffness can indicate muscular or skeletal damage that requires professional treatment.

Pay attention to any new or worsening symptoms, and don’t hesitate to visit a healthcare professional if you’re concerned. Keeping a detailed record of your symptoms can also help your healthcare provider make a more accurate diagnosis and recommend the best treatment plan for your recovery.

Don’t take chances with your health after a car accident. Visit a Complete Care freestanding ER today!

If you’re questioning, “Should I go to the ER after a car accident?” the answer is likely, yes. To be safe, consult with a medical professional regardless of how minor your car accident injuries may seem. Don’t wait for symptoms to worsen or potentially create long-term effects on your health. 

If you or someone you know has been involved in an auto accident, head into a Complete Care facility. 

We have freestanding emergency rooms throughout Texas (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas/Fort Worth, East Texas, Lubbock, and San Antonio) and in Colorado Springs that each are ready to offer immediate, expert medical care without the long wait times associated with traditional hospital ERs. Our experienced medical staff is equipped to handle a wide range of injuries and symptoms resulting from auto accidents, ensuring that you receive the best possible care in your time of need.

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