Fevers in children are worrisome for parents. Sometimes, the fever can be simply due to a mild sickness while other times it can be something more serious. As parents, we only want to do what is best for our kids and may want to take them to the doctor at the first sign of a fever. However, that may not always be necessary.
What Is a Fever?
A fever is an increase in body temperature, typically as a way for our body to fight off an infection that can be caused by a virus or infection. Normal body temperature is around 98.6*F (37*C), but if the temperature is above that, there is not necessarily a cause for concern until it reaches a certain level considered dangerous based on age. Symptoms of a fever can include chills/shivering, sweating, headaches, light-headedness, muscle aches, dehydration, not eating, irritability, and general weakness. To help treat symptoms and lower a temperature, over-the-counter medications can be used.
When to Visit a Pediatrician
According to an article from Claire McCarthy, MD, from Harvard Medical School, a temperature of 102*F (39*C) or above is worthy of giving your pediatrician a call or visit. A higher fever such as this could indicate a serious infection that would need prompt treatment, so an evaluation would be recommended to look for an underlying cause. If your child’s temperature is below this and continues to play, eat, and drink as normal, they will most likely fight off the fever on their own within a few days. A fever can also be normal if your child has recently had an immunization, which usually is low and lasts for less than 48 hours.
Of course, knowing when to visit your pediatrician will vary based on the child’s age and severity of symptoms. You should contact your child’s doctor if any of the following occur:
· Infants and Toddlers
- Temperature upwards of 100.4*F (38*C) and baby is younger than 3 months old
- Temperature upwards of 102*F (38.9*C), is irritable, lethargic, or seems uncomfortable in general and baby is between 3 and 6 months
- Temperature upwards of 102*F (38.9*C) for more than one day and baby is between 6 and 36 months
- Has cold symptoms, a cough, or diarrhea along with a fever
- Medicines to reduce a fever do not work for those old enough to take them
- Temperature upwards of 102*F (38.9*C)
- Fever lasts longer than 3 days
- Accompanied by sluggish, drowsy behavior, and poor eye contact
- Vomits repeatedly
- Temperature is over 104*F (40*C)
- Not taking in enough liquids and urinating frequently enough. This may indicate dehydration
Treat a Fever at Home
For typical, low-grade fevers, treatment at home is sufficient. First and foremost, good rest is key. Getting plenty of fluids will help replenish any lost due to sweating and prevent dehydration. If they are sweating, allow them to cool down by removing extra layers of clothing or blankets, use cold compresses or run a lukewarm bath. If the child is 6 months or older, you can use acetaminophen or ibuprofen (be sure to check with your pediatrician for usage and dosage instructions).
What NOT to Do
There are many old “cures” that could pose dangers and should be avoided when treating a fever. Do not give your child a cold, icy bath as it will cool the skin too much, resulting in shivering, which naturally raises the core body temperature – something you want to avoid with a fever. Along the same lines, do not bundle the child up to “sweat it out,” as the goal is to lower the body temperature. If using other over-the-counter cough or cold medicines, do not use acetaminophen or ibuprofen unless instructed by the pediatrician. Typically, cough and cold medicines will include a fever reducer, so it would be too much if taken together.
Fevers are very common in children and they can have many within a year. Most times, the fever will subside within a couple days and should not cause worry for parents. However, if your child experiences any of the aforementioned symptoms, or your parental instincts are telling you something isn’t right, please contact us to have your child evaluated.