It’s tempting to immediately pick up the phone and call your doctor when your child has a fever, but it’s usually not necessary. There are times when you should be concerned and times when you should let the fever run its course, simply helping your child feel more comfortable through the process.
But how do you know the difference? What can you do to help your child? Here are four things you can start learning now so you’ll know what to do when your child has a fever.
Understand the Purpose of a Fever
A fever signals to you that your child is sick. It’s a symptom; it isn’t a disease.
It can usually be a sign of a more serious problem, like an illness or infection, so while you worry about getting the temperature down, it’s really what the fever is warning you of that should be of greater concern. Pay attention to the symptoms your child exhibits. Is he eating differently, having difficulty breathing, pulling or complaining about his ears? Or does he have diarrhea, vomiting or skin discoloration?
Understanding your child’s symptoms will help you and your doctor, if needed, diagnose what’s wrong and better help your child feel better.
Know When You Need to Call the Doctor
Despite this lesser known truth about fevers—that they’re usually not cause for concern—there are times when you need to call your doctor immediately. This depends upon the age of your child, the length of the fever and the symptoms that accompany it. Here’s when you should seek medical attention for your child:
- If your child is less than 3 months old and has a temperature of 100.4°F or higher, visit or call his pediatrician as soon as possible. A child’s immune system is still immature at this age, which leaves them more vulnerable to potentially life-threatening infections.
- If your child is between the ages of 3 and 6 months old and reaches a fever of 101°F.
- If your child—or anyone for that matter—is older than 6 months, his temperature reaches 103°F and he is exhibiting two or more of the following symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Body aches
- Pain while peeing
- Signs of dehydration
- If your child’s temperature, at any age, reaches 105 or 106°F.
- If your child is under 2 years of age and has a fever for more than 24 hours, or if your child is over 2 years of age and has a fever for more than 3 days.
- If your child is experiencing a severe headache or a stiff neck.
- If you see major changes in behavior and appearance: your child doesn’t look well, is very fussy, is having trouble breathing or has had a seizure.
Furthermore, if you see any of the following symptoms in your child, head straight to the emergency room:
- He has trouble waking up
- Cries inconsolably (more than usual)
- Is short of breath
- Has a rash that doesn’t blanch when touched
- Has bruises that developed suddenly
(These could be signs of meningococcemia or a fatal infection.)
Or call 911 if:
- His tongue, nails or lips turn blue (a sign of meningitis)
- He experiences extreme abdominal pain (a sign of appendicitis)
Monitor Your Child’s Behavior and Temperature
Whether you need to talk to a doctor or you can let the fever run its course, getting over a fever can take time. Most fevers last for a few days before they’re gone completely. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the important thing is how your child looks and feels, not necessarily the number on the thermometer. As parents, it’s easy to get worried when you see a temperature above 100 on the thermometer (a true fever), but that doesn’t necessarily mean your child is dealing with a serious illness. So again, don’t panic.
Keep an eye on your child for the symptoms we listed above and make him feel comfortable as the fever and whatever sickness he’s dealing with runs its course.
Help Your Child Feel Comfortable
Once you’ve got a handle on what a fever’s purpose is, when you need to call the doctor and how to monitor your child’s behavior and temperature, you can give him the appropriate attention needed as he deals with his fever and whatever sickness he has–albeit minor or major.
Take a sick day, give your child plenty of fluids to keep him hydrated and make him rest. You can give him pain reliever and fever reducer (like acetaminophen and ibuprofen) to help him feel better, but don’t give your child aspirin. Aspirin has been associated with Reye syndrome, which is a potentially serious illness that can affect the nervous system.
Additionally, don’t give your child a cold bath or use alcohol to bathe him as a way of decreasing their temperature. It will only increase it and make matters worse. Try giving your child a lukewarm bath and dress him in light, comfortable clothes.
Every child experiences fevers. It can be scary to go through as a parent when they’re so small and so frail, but the fever will pass and they’ll be back to feeling like themselves again.
If you’re still concerned about fevers when they happen, feel free to call your doctor to make sure everything’s okay, but hopefully these tips helped to lessen that fear for you.
What makes your child feel better when he/she has a fever?