This blog is part of a series of blog posts designed to serve as a quick reference guide. Each will focus on a sudden injury or illness and is designed to help you make an informed decision on a plan of action when the unexpected happens.
A fever is the temporary increase in body temperature in response to a disease or illness. It’s important to remember that a fever is not an illness, but a sign that the immune system is fighting off a bacterial or viral infection. Most of the illnesses that cause a fever aren’t dangerous and treatable at home.
What is considered a fever?
Your child officially has a fever when the thermometer reads 100.4 F and above. An adult probably has a fever when the temperature is above 99°F to 99.5°F (37.2°C to 37.5°C), depending on the time of day.
When should I call the doctor?
How your child acts and feels is usually a better indicator than the number on the thermometer of how sick he or she is. The illness is probably not serious if your child is still eating and drinking, is alert, and is still interested in playing. If your child is lethargic, irritable, has a sore throat, has ear or stomach pain, or has pain when urinating, call your doctor. Also call the doctor for any fever that lasts longer than 24 to 48 hours in children under age two or 48 to 72 hours in an older child or adult.
You should also call the doctor right away if your child
- Is 3 months or younger and has a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.
- Is 3 to 12 months old and has a fever of 102.2°F (39°C) or higher.
- Has a fever of 105°F (40.5°C) or higher, unless it comes down readily with treatment and he or she is comfortable .
- Has a seizure. About four percent of children under the age of five have febrile seizures. While scary, they’re rarely serious. However, the first time a seizure occurs, the child should be evaluated immediately.
What can cause a fever?
Almost any infection can cause a fever. Some of the most common infections causing fever are the flu, ear infections, sinus infections, strep throat, gastroenteritis (stomach flu), and urinary tract infections. Sometimes children may have a low-grade fever for a day or two after some immunizations. Teething can cause a slight increase in a child’s temperature, but not higher than 100 °F.
Should I give fever reducing medication?
Fever reducing medicine is not a cure. Fever is actually a good thing; it helps the body fight infection. Most illness-causing germs thrive at around 98.6 °F, so the immune system will increase the body’s temperature when it detects an infection in order to help kill the germs Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be given to make your child (or yourself) more comfortable but won’t lead to an immediate recovery.
If you do choose to use a fever-reducing medication, follow these guidelines.
- Take acetaminophen every 4 to 6 hours. It works by turning down the brain’s thermostat.
- Take ibuprofen every 6 to 8 hours. DO NOT use ibuprofen in children 6 months or younger.
- Know how much you or your child weighs. Then check the instructions on the package to find the correct doseage.
- Never “eyeball” the dose; follow the instructions on the bottle. Be sure to use the dropper that came in the package. If unsure of the proper dosage, call your doctor.
- In children three months or younger, call your child’s provider before giving medicines.
- For older kids, ibuprofen seems to bring fever down faster, according to a recent review in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. However, since acetaminophen is less likely to cause stomach upset, it may be a better choice for children with sensitive stomachs.
Besides medication, what other ways can I treat a fever at home?
- Remove excess clothing and blankets and keep the room at a comfortable temperature (not too hot or cold). Do not bundle up someone with the chills.
- A lukewarm bath may help after medicine is given (otherwise the temperature might quickly bounce back up).
- Do not use cold baths, ice, or alcohol rubs. They can make the fever worse by causing shivering, raising the core body temperature.
- Drink plenty of fluids – soup, popsicles, and gelatin are good choices in addition to water.