Tales From the ER: Ghoulish Symptoms Aren’t Always As Scary As You Think

Tales From the ER: Ghoulish Symptoms Aren’t Always As Scary As You Think

As you’re planning for Halloween, the last thing on your mind is probably a trip to the ER. Talk about a nightmare! The wait can be long, (especially in those hard chairs). And everyone around you seems to have something worse – or more contagious.


In all seriousness, there are times when going to the ER is the best option. But what about those times when you don’t have to go to the emergency room? What if your primary care doctorretail health clinic or urgent care clinic can take care of you? You could save a lot of time and expense by skipping the ER.

For most of us, not knowing what’s happening with our body can be frightening. When it’s a loved one or your kiddo, it can be terrifying. Often, our first instinct is to go to the ER for answers. But if your issue isn’t life-threatening, going to the ER will cost more money and take more time than visiting an outpatient clinic, urgent care facility or making an appointment to see your doctor.

Also, if you visit a freestanding ER, be aware that it may not be part of your plan’s network.

Emergency rooms prioritize patients. The most serious and severe are taken first. Individuals experiencing a potential life-threatening situation go to the front of the line and there is no waiting. If you have a broken toe from dropping a hammer on your foot, you will wait until everyone else with a more severe injury is seen. If you have a stuffy nose or poison ivy rash, and it’s a Friday night, you could be waiting a long time.

Check out this list of common, non-life-threatening issues that frequently make their way to the ER – along with suggestions about other care options.

Sinus infections/Rhinitis
A seriously stuffed-up nose can make you feel like you’re in a nightmare, but the real scare will come when you get the bill from the ER. When you have a sinus infection, going to a primary care doctor, retail health clinic or urgent care clinic may be your best bet. Follow your nose. If your symptoms progressed, or you are dealing with a child, this issue may become serious.

When you can’t go, where do you go? Believe it or not, lots of people with constipation go to the emergency room. There are things your doctor can do to help you “out” – so start there. If you’re experiencing signs of bowel obstruction, your doctor will know where to send you.

Sore throat
Vampire got you by the throat? While it hurts, your sore throat may not require a trip to the emergency room. You may just need to see your doctor or have it  checked out at a local retail health clinic or urgent care center. If it’s more serious, they’ll know what to do.

Did you drive a pitch fork through your toe while fighting off zombies? Believe it or not, you may not need to spend money to go to an ER. An urgent care center can handle X-rays, stitch you up and give you medication to fight any infection.

Other symptoms
Worried that you may have caught something from a guy on the bus? Or from the woman in the cubicle next to you? If it’s a serious condition that you think may put you in danger, a trip to the ER may be the right choice. If it’s something like a head cold or chest congestion, see a doctor or visit a medical clinic first.

There is one thing that’s freakier than sitting in an emergency room, though. Seeing the emergency room bill afterward. That’s when the real nightmare hits. Long after you’ve recovered, bills can still trickle in.

Before you head to the ER, know all your options for care. Plan ahead for those times when you need urgent or fast care, but not emergency care.

Sources: Avoidable ER Visits Fuel Healthcare Costs, leaving site icon U.S. News & World Report, 2019; Avoiding Unnecessary Emergency Room Visits, leaving site icon ParentGiving, 2021.

Originally published 10/7/2016; Revised 2021