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Emergency Department vs. Urgent Care vs. Primary Care

Sometimes, it’s obvious when to head to the emergency room, but other times, it can be more difficult to tell. The following are some tips to help you decide whether you need to head to the emergency room, the nearest urgent care location or your primary care doctor.

Conditions Typically Treated by a Primary Care Physician


  • Allergic reaction *If you are having difficulty breathing, you should head to the Emergency Room.
  • Asthma attack (minor)
  • Bronchitis
  • Colds, cough, flu, fever
  • Dehydration
  • Ear infection
  • Migraine
  • Minor burns
  • Minor cuts/lacerations
  • Nausea
  • Pink eye
  • Sore throat
  • Sprain or strain
  • Urinary tract infection

Most primary care physicians leave room in their schedule for ‘sick’ visits from their regular patients. If it’s after hours or your primary care physician is unavailable, you should visit an urgent care office.

Locate a Primary Care Physician near you.

Conditions Typically Treated in an Urgent Care


  • Sinus infections
  • Cold or flu symptoms
  • Minor cuts, burns or skin rashes
  • Animal/insect bites
  • Sprains and minor bone fractures
  • School, sports, camp and work physicals
  • Workers’ compensation care
  • Occupational medicine
  • Ear and eye infections
  • Sore throat
  • Minor injuries

Find the urgent care location nearest to you.

Conditions Typically Treated in an Emergency Room


  • Chest pain
  • Stroke
  • *Poisoning
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Serious trauma or injury
  • Deep cuts or bleeding that won’t stop
  • Large bone fractures
  • Problems related to pregnancy
  • Severe burns
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Abdominal pain

*In North Carolina, call the Carolinas Poison Control Center at (800) 848-6946. Calling the National Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222 connects callers to the nearest poison control center.

Find the emergency room located nearest to you.