There is nothing more common or more anxiety producing than when your child suddenly spikes a fever. A high temperature can rattle even the calmest of parents. It's probably one of the most frequent reasons parents call their pediatrician in the middle of the night, take them to urgent care, or seek a same-day appointment.
Fever means our child is sick and that (understandably) worries us.
So, for all you parents out there tending to a febrile child, here's your quick and easy fever dos and don'ts... age by age.
Babies less than 4 months old
- Do take her temperature rectally. It's the most accurate and accuracy at this age is important.
- Do seek medical care for any infant less than 4 months old with a temperature of 100.4 F or greater. This is considered a true fever.
- Do remain calm since most fevers do not signal a serious infection but rather a mild cold or other easily treated infection.
- Don't automatically reach for a fever reducer without speaking with your child's doctor
Children less than 2 years old
- Do look at the big picture. How is your child looking, eating, behaving? This more than anything will clue you in to how your child is doing, not the number on the thermometer.
- Do offer frequent amounts of clear liquids since fevers increase water loss.
- Don't immediately give them acetaminophen or ibuprofen at the slightest temperature elevation.
- Do treat fevers that start climbing to 102 F or above, since this is typically when children start to look and feel pretty lousy.
- Do take your child to his pediatrician for fevers that persist beyond 24 hours.
Children 2 and older
- Do remember that even very high fevers (104 and 105 F) commonly seen with the flu, are not dangerous to your child. Sure, they are nerve wracking and make your child feel miserable but keep in mind it is a sign that your child's body is busy fighting off an infection.
- Don't freak out. Easier said than done, I know. But again, resist the temptation to normalize your child's temperature. Treat your child, not the number on the thermometer.
- Don't give any child aspirin in attempts to treat the fever due to risk of Reye Syndrome. Use the proper dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen instead.
- Do seek medical care for any fever (100.4 F or greater) that persists beyond 3 days.
- Do keep up on hydration by frequently offering clear fluids.
Temperature taking tips
- Always use a rectal thermometer for infants less than 4 months old. It's the most accurate and accuracy at this age is important. A true fever is defined as 100.4 F or higher.
- Ear thermometers are great for children 6 months and older because they are easy and non-invasive. Just remember, that you do lose some accuracy (up to 1 degree in either direction).
- Temporal artery thermometers have recently become the go-to tool for many pediatricians and parents for ease of use and high accuracy.
- Oral thermometers are great for kids 4 and older who are patient enough to keep it in their mouths and have high accuracy.
The importance of the big picture
Keep fever in context when you're faced with that rising number on the thermometer. Fever is a good sign that your child's body is working and doing its job in fighting off an infection. Look at your child as a whole (what other symptoms does she have?) to determine the extent of her illness and the need for medical attention.
Dr. Mom's bottom line
^When your child starts to heat up, do your best to keep cool. Know that in most cases, fever means your child is actively fighting off an infection and that's a good thing.