May 18, 2015, 12:00:00 AM CDT Feb 6, 2019, 10:38:00 AM CST

What to do when your child has a fever

Know the signs of a fever, how to bring down fever and when to see a doctor

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Sick little boy laying on the couch under a blanket with a thermometer in his mouth Sick little boy laying on the couch under a blanket with a thermometer in his mouth

When your child has a fever, it is a sign that their immune system is fighting off an infection. Reducing the fever will not get rid of the infection, but it can relieve some discomfort and allow for an opportunity to re-evaluate your child's symptoms.

Learn what temperature is considered a fever for a child, the best ways to reduce fever, and when to see a doctor or go to the emergency room (ER).

What temperature is a fever for a child?

A normal body temperature is about 98.6°F. A temperature of 100.4°F or higher is considered a fever for a child. Look for these signs that your child may have a fever:

  • Feels warmer than usual
  • Sweating
  • Shivering
  • Loss of appetite
  • General body aches
  • Fussiness or irritability

If you suspect your child has a fever, use a thermometer to take their temperature.

Which thermometer is the most accurate?

When choosing a thermometer, consider your child's age and your comfort level using the thermometer. When calling the doctor's office, be sure to mention the type of thermometer used, the body area from which the temperature was taken and the exact reading.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to stop using mercury thermometers to prevent accidental poisoning. It is easy to drop and break a glass/mercury thermometer and tempting for children to touch the exposed mercury.

Three recommended types of digital thermometers

  • Digital multiuse thermometer: Reads body temperature when the sensor on the tip of the thermometer touches the body. Can be used for rectal, oral or under the arm readings. Recommended for infants up to 3 years old (rectal) and 4 to 5 years and older (orally).
  • Temporal artery (forehead thermometer): Reads the infrared heat waves released by the temporal artery, which run across the forehead. Recommended for children 3 months and older.
  • Tympanic (ear thermometer): Reads the infrared heat waves released by the eardrum. Readings are obtained by insertion in the ear. Recommended for 6 months and older.

How do you bring down a child's fever?

If your child has a fever, there are ways to provide relief and help reduce the fever:

  • Fluids: Offer plenty of fluids to drink. Prolonged fever can lead to dehydration.
  • Sponge bath: Apply a lukewarm sponge bath to help lower your child's temperature. Do not put your child in cold water or use rubbing alcohol to try to cool him/her off. Rubbing alcohol, inhaled or absorbed through the skin, can be toxic.
  • Dress: Remove unnecessary clothing to make your child feel comfortable. Dress your child in lightweight, breathable clothing.
  • Comfort: Cover with a light sheet, if your child appears chilled.
  • Medicine: Consider using fever-reducing medication such as infant acetaminophen (Children's Tylenol) or infant ibuprofen (Children's Motrin). Check the label or call your pediatrician for the correct dosage for your child. Do not give aspirin to children age 18 or younger.

When should you worry about a fever?

Call your primary care physician if your child is:

  • Younger than 3 months of age with a temperature of 100.4°F or higher
  • Age 3 to 6 months with a temperature up to 102°F and appears very lethargic or irritable (also, if the fever is higher than 102°F, without other symptoms)
  • Age 6 to 24 months with a temperature above 102°F, lasting more than a day.

If a fever does not respond to acetaminophen or ibuprofen and continues to persist, that is also a good time to seek medical care.

When should you take your child to the ER for a fever?

There is no one set temperature that a parent should worry about, as each child's body can react differently to a fever. While a high fever on its own may not warrant a trip to the ER, there are a variety of other symptoms to watch for. You should visit the ER if your child's high fever is accompanied by:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Dry lips or sunken eyes
  • Excess vomiting
  • Dehydration with increased urination

Get care now

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fever, infection, physician advice, virus

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