We all get a fever now and again - but for parents, few things are as stressful as a sick child. With a nasty flu virus going around this season, a rising temperature can be particularly worrisome. And it begs the question: what should be done when a child begins to feel sick?
A fever is defined as a temperature over 100.4 F (38.0 C). Normally, our bodies rest at about 98.6 F (37 C). The keyword here is “about” - it’s normal for our temperature to fluctuate throughout the day. Your temperature is also influenced by your age, the activities you’re participating in, and other factors.
While the magic number is 100.4 F, there are still other things to consider when evaluating a fever. In fact, most fevers usually don't indicate anything serious! Fevers are a natural response to the presence of germs that may make us sick. And fevers alone do not always provide a good indication of how serious the problem is; some major infections only cause a mild fever, while simple colds can cause a high one.
For otherwise healthy children, the majority of fevers will not need much more than home remedies and rest. For young children or children with pre-existing health issues, it’s important to discuss a plan with your doctor in advance, so that you know when to report a spiking temperature.
Guidelines For Parents
The following guidelines can help you determine if a doctor’s visit is necessary for a fever:
- If a fever lasts less than a few days and your child is behaving fairly normally, there is no need to visit a doctor. Normal behavior includes being able to drink, eat, and enjoy some easygoing activities while at home. Exhaustion is normal as a child recovers from a fever.
- While it’s tough, try not to worry if temperatures of up to 102.5 F affect a child that is 3 months to 3 years of age. Even fevers up to 103 F in older children are considered common. They key here, again, is to make sure these children are eating and drinking normally, have a normal skin color, and feel comfortable.
- Some children will lose their appetite while fighting a fever. This is also a common side effect. Being able to drink and use the bathroom normally is a good indicator of whether or not the loss of appetite is serious.
- If other symptoms develop or your child's overall condition deteriorates, contact your doctor regardless of temperature. Additionally, contact a doctor if a child’s temperature rises above the guidelines for their age group.
Helping Children Recover
While not all fevers need to be treated, there are things you can do to help older children feel more comfortable if need be:
- You can give acetaminophen or ibuprofen based on the package recommendations for your children’s age or weight group. Never give aspirin to a child unless instructed otherwise. Additionally, infants younger than 2 months old should not be given any medicine for fever without being checked by a doctor. If your child has any medical problems, you should work with your doctor to determine which medicine is best to use.
- Ensure that your thermostat is set to an average temperature that’s not too warm or too cold. Additionally, your child should wear lightweight clothing and use a light sheet or blanket if needed - overdressing can trap body heat and contribute to a higher temperature.
- While they’re sick, it’s important for children to rest and drink extra fluids so they don’t become dehydrated. Water, soup, and ice pops are all good choices. Avoid caffeinated beverages, however, as they are diuretics.
Dr. Susan Kohn, of our Sleepy Hollow offices, recommends the following as parents help their children recover:
'Please give your child the appropriate fever reducer if he or she is uncomfortable, including before being seen in our office. The fever itself may be contributing to pain, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, irritability, low energy and sleepiness so giving these medications will make your child feel better and more comfortable during our exam and at home. We will also be better able to determine how sick he or she is by observing behavior in the office when the fever is down, in addition to discussing what you have seen at home and examining your child. Please feel free to call us for advice if you are not sure if you need an appointment or for more information.'
When To Call A Doctor
Not all fevers can be managed at home. In addition to calling with questions, as mentioned by Dr. Kohn, it’s important to call a doctor if the following occurs:
- An infant younger than 3 months of age develops a fever
- Your child’s fever lasts more than 24 hours (in kids younger than 2 years old) or 72 hours (in kids 2 years or older)
- Your child’s fever is higher than 104 F (> 40 C).
- Your child’s fever does not come down with fever reducing medicine
- Your child has trouble breathing or develops belly pain
- Your child is not drinking or eating
- Your child has lasting diarrhea or repeated vomiting
- Your child’s mood changes (i.e. if they are extremely irritable or fussy)
- Your child is extremely sluggish and has trouble waking up
- Your baby is not wetting at least four diapers per day
- Your child has a chronic medical condition
- Your child has a rash
- Your child has blue lips, tongue, or nails
- Your child was recently immunized and has a temperature above 102º F, or a fever that lasts more than 48 hours.
- You are concerned. If anything feels off, there is no shame in calling your doctor to make sure everything is OK!
Keep Calm And Try To Carry On
We’re willing to bet that even reading about the complications associated with a fever was a little scary. Illness and discomfort are two of the worst things we can watch our children deal with. Knowing how to monitor for extreme temperatures and other major symptoms will help you and your child both recover as quickly as possible after a fever spikes.
If at any point you need a medical opinion or feel concerned about your child’s behavior or symptoms, Capital Area Pediatrics can help. To schedule an appointment with or to contact a pediatrician, find your nearest location and our staff will be happy to assist you and your family!