As we get deeper into the time of year when respiratory illnesses and fevers are so common, here is some information about fevers and how to manage them.
What is a fever?
Fever is the body’s normal way of fighting an infection, and it helps our body’s immune system work more effectively to protect us. Fevers let us know that something is going on and alert us to keep an extra watch on how a child is acting.
Normal temperature variation throughout the day is between 97 degrees F (36 degrees C) and 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C). Your child has a fever if his or her temperature is above 100.4 F or 38 C measured by a rectal or ear thermometer. The most reliable way to measure a temperature of a child under 3 years of age is rectally. A temperature in an older child can be measured with an ear thermometer or by placing a thermometer under his or her tongue. Using a digital thermometer is the quickest and safest method. Mercury or glass thermometers are no longer recommended. Taking a temperature under the arm or elsewhere on the body, using a forehead strip, or using a pacifier thermometer is unreliable and can be inaccurate. Temperatures measured these ways should be double-checked with one of the preferred methods listed above.
Putting fevers in perspective
Fevers between 100.5 F and 105 F are common with many illnesses in children. The height of the fever does not typically correlate with the severity of the illness. This means that a child with a 104 F temperature is not necessarily more sick than a child with a 101 F temperature. The other symptoms that a child has are more important in deciding whether we should be concerned or not. We treat children with fever-reducing medication to make them more comfortable, not because fevers are dangerous. Do not wake your child just to take a temperature or to give fever-reducing medication. Fevers for most children are generally not dangerous until they are over 107-108 F. For children under 3 months of age with a temperature over 100.4 F, parents should notify a doctor.
What to do when your child has a fever?
If you think your child has a fever, dress him or her lightly and encourage fluid intake. Avoid bundling your child in heavy blankets. Sponge baths and cool baths are usually not needed and may make your child more uncomfortable. Alcohol baths or rubs are not recommended, and may be harmful.
If you choose to use a fever-reducing medication, we recommend either acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). You can view dosing recommendations for acetaminophen and ibuprofen here on our website.
We do not routinely recommend alternating these medications or giving them at the same time. These medications help reduce the temperature by 1-2 degrees or more, and can last for several hours. Reducing a temperature is not necessary, but can be helpful if your child is uncomfortable with symptoms such as fussiness, chills, headaches, body aches, or nausea.
Remember, at a basic level fevers can be beneficial in helping your child fight off the infection!
You can call us at any time if you are worried about your child while they have a fever. In general for otherwise healthy children, most viral infections will cause fever for 2-3 days. During this time they can often be cared for at home without a doctor’s visit. Other symptoms such as ear ache, eye redness with discharge, persistent vomiting, breathing difficulties, concerning cough, or strange rash may necessitate contacting us earlier to see if your child should come in for an evaluation.