Fast facts about fever for nervous parents

June 27, 2018 Providence Health Team


Fever is a sign the body is fighting infection

It's important to follow directions when giving children a pain reliever for fever

Know when it's time to call a pediatrician

A fever can actually be a good thing, a sign that the body is doing the work it's supposed to do  ̶  but try telling that to a worried parent whose child is sick, crying and uncomfortable. Properly managing a fever can help the child feel better and put parents more at ease. Here are some good tips for any parent to keep in mind the next time that thermometer creeps into the red zone.

Fevers are a way for the body to ward off an infection, which can be either viral or bacterial in nature. 

The "normal" body temperature of 98.6 isn't always the same for everyone; it can actually fluctuate about a degree in either direction. Generally, a child is considered feverish with a temperature at or above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit when measured rectally, or 100 degrees Fahrenheit when taken orally.

When taking a child's temperature, avoid old-fashioned mercury thermometers and opt for digital ones instead. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends taking rectal temperatures on infants and children younger than 3; after that, oral temperatures are fine. (Underarm readings are generally considered not as reliable as the other two.) Always clean the thermometer, either with rubbing alcohol or warm, soapy water, and never use the same thermometer for both oral and rectal temperatures. For oral readings, wait about 15 to 30 minutes after the child has had a cold or hot drink before taking her temperature. Other types of thermometers measure infrared heat waves coming off the forehead's temporal artery or the eardrum, although the latter can give incorrect readings if it's not positioned properly in the ear or there's too much earwax.

Parents don't always have to call a pediatrician if their child has a fever, but there are important times when they should. They include: a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher in a baby age 3 months or younger; a fever of 104 degrees or higher in any child; a fever that lasts more than 24 hours for kids age 2 and younger or more than 72 hours for older kids; a fever combined with extreme drowsiness or irritability, signs of dehydration, or symptoms such as severe pain in the head, ear or throat, a stiff neck, a rash, or vomiting or diarrhea that isn't going away. If the fever goes away, but the child is still sick, it's worth a call to the doctor, too.

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are the two medicines given to help relieve uncomfortable symptoms stemming from a fever. Babies younger than 6 months should only be given acetaminophen, and only at the proper dosing instructions of a pediatrician. Older children can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but again, it's important to buy a product meant for children and follow the age and weight dosage chart on the package carefully. Always use the measuring cup packaged with the medicine, not an ordinary measuring spoon. If a child is frequently vomiting or is dehydrated, call the doctor before administering medications.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says the goal should be to keep the child comfortable while managing fever. Ways to do that include giving the child plenty of fluids, keeping her room cool and dressing her in cool clothes. Another good technique is a sponge bath with an inch or two of tepid water  ̶  if the water is too cold, it can cause shivering and increase the fever.

Looking for a pediatrician? Find a health provider near you. For more helpful parenting articles like these, download the Circle by Providence app for tools and resources for raising healthy kids.


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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