The Montreal Children's and Sainte-Justine hospitals are asking parents to think twice before bringing children to an emergency room this holiday season.

In a joint statement, Montreal's pediatric hospitals say only children who need urgent medical attention should be showing up at an ER.

"Sometimes we see children in the waiting room that are running around, eating Cheetos," said Dr. Antonio D'Angelo, the head of the pediatric emergency department at Sainte-Justine Hospital. 

​"They shouldn't be in emergency."

The hospitals say it happens every year: during the holidays, their emergency rooms are flooded.

On a normal day in winter, the Montreal Children's Hospital's ER sees about 240 patients. In the past few days, ER staff have seen between 280 and 330.

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Doctors say children with the flu are leading to congested emergency rooms.

The director of the emergency department at the Montreal Children's Hospital, Dr. Harley Eisman, asks parents to exercise common sense.

"If your child is lethargic, they're not eating, they're not drinking, they're just unwell, then that's a situation where they should be evaluated," Eisman said.

But many parents are bringing their kids to the emergency room at the first sign of fever.

"Fever is a natural symptom of a child trying to fight off an infection," D'Angelo said.

"If a child is relatively well, and the fever has been going on for less than three days, then that fever is likely of viral origin and not, in and of itself, dangerous."

When to consider the emergency room

  • Your child is having trouble breathing (breathing faster than normal, pale, lips are white or blue, coughing non-stop, choking or breathing irregularly).
  • Your child is hurt and may have a broken bone or need stitches.
  • Your child hurt themselves and is now vomiting.
  • Your infant (under three months old) has a fever over 38°C or 100.4°F.
  • Your child is feverish and drowsy, and you are having trouble waking him up.
  • Your child has a rash and their skin doesn't turn white if you press on it.
  • Your child is vomiting and has diarrhea, is not producing tears, has a very dry mouth and has not urinated more than 2-3 times in the last 24 hours.

Doctors advise those with flu-like symptoms to drink water and rest. 

For medical advice, parents can consult their family doctor, a pharmacist or the Info-Santé line at 811.

with files from CBC's Elysha Enos