What to do when your child has a fever
Know the signs of fever, how to treat it and when to see a doctor.
When your child has a fever, it is a sign that their immune system is fighting off an infection. “The vast majority of infectious diseases that are associated with a high fever are caused by a virus, and are usually accompanied by coughing, congestion, vomiting or diarrhea,” says LeAnn Kridelbaugh, M.D., President of Children’s HealthSM Pediatric Group. “Fever can also coincide with an ear infection or strep throat as well as less common infections like pneumonia.”
Reducing the fever will not help your child get rid of the infection but it will relieve the discomfort associated with it and allow for an opportunity to re-evaluate your child’s symptoms.
What are the signs of a fever?
Look for these indicators that your child may have a fever:
- A temperature of 100.2ᵒF or higher. A normal body temperature is about 98.6ᵒF.
- Loss of appetite
- General body aches
- Fussiness or irritability
Which thermometer is best?
When choosing a thermometer, factor in your child’s age and your comfort level operating 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 or “play with” the exposed mercury.
Three recommended types of digital thermometers
- Digital multiuse thermometer: Reads body temperature when the sensor located on the tip of the thermometer touches that part of the body. Can be used for rectal, oral or axillary (under the arm) readings. Recommended for infants up to 3 years old (rectal) and 4 to 5 years and older (orally).
- Temporal artery: Reads the infrared heat waves released by the temporal artery, which run across the forehead just below the skin. Recommended for children 3 months and older.
- Tympanic: Reads the infrared heat waves released by the eardrum. Readings are obtained by insertion in the ear. Recommended for 6 months and older.
How to read the thermometer
If you suspect your child has a fever, use a thermometer to take their temperature. The readings will vary depending on the area of the body where the temperature is taken. The following readings generally indicate a fever:
- Oral, rectal, ear or temporal artery temperature of 100.4ᵒ (38 C) or higher
- Armpit temperature of 99.4ᵒ F or higher
How to make your child more comfortable
- Offer plenty of fluids to drink. Prolonged fever can lead to dehydration.
- 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.
- Remove unnecessary clothing to make your child feel comfortable. Dress your child in lightweight, breathable clothing.
- Cover with a light blanket, if your child appears chilled.
- Consider using fever-reducing medication. 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. Don’t give aspirin to children age 18 or younger.
When to call a doctor
Get medical help if your child is:
- Younger than 3 months of age with a temperature of 100.4ᵒ F or higher
- Age 3 to 6 months with a temperature up to 102ᵒ F and appears very lethargic or irritable (also, if the fever is higher than 102ᵒ F, without other symptoms)
- Age 6 to 24 months with a temperature above 102ᵒ F, lasting more than a day
Learn more about the Children’s Health Pediatric Group and our 18 primary care locations serving communities throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.