When should you avoid the ER? Doctor discusses alternative ways to seek care amid 'tripledemic'

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, December 6, 2022
Should you avoid the ER? Doctor discusses amid 'tripledemic'
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The triple threat of flu, RSV and COVID-19 is hitting hospitals and stretching emergency rooms thin, so doctors want to remind everyone other ways to receive care.

The triple threat of flu, RSV and COVID-19 is hitting hospitals and stretching emergency rooms thin, so doctors want to remind everyone other ways to receive care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 75% of pediatric beds are filled, and every state is experiencing high levels of flu activity, including California.

Doctors say only the very sick should utilize emergency services.

So if your symptoms are manageable, there are ways to get the immediate care you need.

Ontario resident David De Leon wanted to avoid a trip to the ER, but the pain he was feeling was unbearable.

"It was a loss of hearing. And It was sharp, internal pain and the sharp pain was getting progressively worse," he said.

"There's a lot of traffic going into the ER, and we can only accommodate so many patients at a time," said Emergency Medicine specialist Dr. Aurore Richard of Kaiser Permanente San Bernardino.

At that location, respiratory illnesses have been filling the waiting room for weeks. Richard says many kids have needed oxygen for RSV, while COVID and influenza cases pick up.

"I think we haven't stopped spiking from the flu so we're not at the top of it yet," said Richard.

Her advice is to only go to the ER if you find your symptoms are severe and you're in respiratory distress.

"They're flaring their nostrils when they breathe... tracheal tugging... Those are all signs of work of breathing for kids, and I would say that's appropriate to bring them in to be evaluated," Richard said.

A pulse oximeter reading of 90 or below needs immediate medical attention. But if your symptoms have not progressed, supportive care is the only way to treat viruses. This includes fluids and over-the-counter cold medications. These are all the things you can do at home.

Also, you can catch other respiratory illnesses in crowded waiting rooms. Instead, Richard recommends using the platforms available to sick patients.

RSV, flu, COVID: Doctors concerned over possibility of 'tripledemic' worsening. Here's what to know

"There's multiple avenues to get care. Phone appointments, video appointments, urgent care appointments. Obviously, the ER is open 24/7, but we really need to save those beds for the people who really need them the most," she said.

"I went through the urgent care portal, and I was able to schedule the same day, so it was very easy to go through their system," De Leon said.

De Leon was diagnosed with ear infection and got the treatment he needed, and he's glad he didn't go to the ER.

"I did have that sense of urgency, therefore the urgent care was perfect for my necessities," he said.

The CDC is making an urgent push to encourage flu and COVID vaccinations. Local health officials say stay home when you're sick and they're strongly recommending indoor masking.