Your ear has been sore all day. When you sit down to read a book before bed, the pain in your ear prevents you from concentrating. Normally, you would call your primary care doctor, but it’s seven o’clock at night, and the office is closed. While your symptoms aren’t bad enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room (ER), you want to get it checked out as soon as possible, so you decide to head to urgent care.

This is a great choice. When you need medical attention in the short term but it doesn’t require a trip to the emergency room, going to an urgent care center can help you get the treatment you need while avoiding long wait times and costly bills associated with the ER.

When to go to urgent care?

Urgent care acts as the middle ground between a scheduled primary care appointment and going to the ER. It’s appropriate to go to urgent care when you require immediate medical attention for a minor injury or illness.

Urgent care clinics are staffed with trained medical professionals, often physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, nurses aids, and x-ray technicians. Unlike most primary care clinics, many urgent care centers have extended evening hours or are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Examples of common illnesses and injuries treated at urgent care clinics include:

  • Bug bites
  • Burns
  • Colds and flu
  • Congestion
  • Cuts and lacerations
  • Diarrhea
  • Ear infections and earaches
  • Pink eye
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Sprains and strains
  • Sore throat
  • Urinary tract infections

When to go to the emergency room

If your symptoms are life-threatening, call 911 or go to the closest emergency department as soon as possible. The American College of Emergency Physicians recommends going to the ER if you experience:1

  • Bleeding lasting longer than 10 minutes
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Facial drooping or weakness in a limb
  • Head trauma
  • Major broken bones
  • Seizures
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Sudden confusion or disorientation
  • Trouble breathing

Urgent care versus the emergency room

When you are ill or injured and require treatment, you’ll have to decide if you should go to urgent care or the emergency room.

If your injury or illness is not life-threatening, but you need immediate attention, going to urgent care can offer several benefits over a trip to the ER. Urgent care typically provides shorter wait times and is less expensive.

However, if you are experiencing more severe symptoms that could be life-threatening, call 911 or go to the emergency department as soon as possible.


  1. American College of Emergency Physicians. Emergency care vs. urgent care. Accessed February 26, 2023.

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