SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Local leaders are pleading with the public to only use hospital emergency rooms during real emergencies.

Local leaders said ER's are being overused for minor ailments, putting way too much pressure on staff.

Last year, the number of ER visits in San Diego County exceeded one million, more than half of which were non-emergencies, which impacted everything from wait times to the availability of ambulances.

"Our emergency rooms are under stress. This is not something that just happened yesterday. It has been building for a number of years," said Dimitrios Alexiou.

From 2006 to 2014 the number of patients seeking help at emergency departments throughout San Diego County was up by 40 percent. During that same time, the county's population increased by only seven percent.

Since 2009, 53 percent, more than half, of all countywide ER visits were not truly emergencies.

"I had a patient who was in abdominal pain. I examined them and found out they were waiting for five or six hours with an appendix that could have burst in the waiting room," said Dr. Roneet Lev.

For symptoms like minor colds, cuts and burns, low grade fever, springs and back pain, health officials urge patients to see their primary care provider or visit urgent care, not the ER.

"Local emergency rooms should be used by people who are sick, not people who have mild symptoms," said Dr. Nora Faine.

Health officials said the surge in unnecessary ER visits has intensified since the launch of the Affordable Care Act which provided access to health care for thousands of San Diegans who were previously uninsured.

San Diegans are urged to plan ahead by visiting a primary care provider, using urgent care or community health clinic instead of the ER for non-emergencies.

The public can also call 211 if uninsured and to find out more information on clinic locations and for help in signing up for medical coverage.