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I Think My Child Has a Fever

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
Sept. 25, 2013

Does your kid have fever symptoms? Here's what to do.

Childhood fevers are scary, especially when they climb high. The good news, however, is that even a really high fever isn't inherently bad or harmful.

We asked Dr. Anita Chandra-Puri, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and York, Penn.-based family physician Wanda Filer MD, to help demystify childhood fevers.

The following advice is for children older than one year of age. If your child is younger and has a fever, call your doctor immediately.

  1. Why Does My Child Have a Fever?
    "A fever is the body's way of fighting an infection," shares Chandra-Puri. "You don't always want to treat it just because it is a number." A person's normal body temperature can fluctuate over the course of the day, says Filer. And some people have a naturally higher or lower body temperature than the standard 98.6 degrees. A person with a lower base temperature will feel worse with a 102 fever than will someone whose normal temperature is 99 degrees. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most doctors consider any temperature above 100.4 a fever.

  2. When Should I Worry?
    Doctors can't say it enough -- it's not the number on the thermometer that should concern you as much as your child's behavior. If the fever is 104, but you can get it down, your child is active, hydrated and comfortable, has no rash and no vocal concerns, it's less worrisome than a lethargic child with a fever of 101, says Chandra-Puri. If your child is running a fever and is lethargic, isn't drinking or urinating and is either unusually placid or can't be consoled, call the doctor.

  3. How Do I Treat a Fever?
    To reduce a fever, give either ibuprofen or acetaminophen based on the child's weight, not age. If your child still seems miserable, ask your doctor's office for guidelines about layering the two medications by dosing both at varying times. As with any medication, check and double check the amounts you're giving and make sure the timing is correct. Use a chart to track what you gave and at what time is especially helpful when you are giving medication.

    Never give a feverish child or teenager any form of aspirin, as it has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal condition. You can also put your child in a lukewarm to warm bath (not cool because it might bring on shivering) to reduce the fever. They only need to be in the bath for 5 to 10 minutes, says Filer. Dry them off well afterwards to keep them from getting chilled.

  4. Should I Worry About a Seizure?
    Febrile seizures are specifically caused by a high body temperature and are scary. Generally, however, they do not cause any long-lasting harm. "When people worry about how high the fever goes, the underlying fear is often of a seizure," says Filer. "It is not the height of the fever, but how fast it goes up as a rapid rise seems to trigger a febrile seizure." If your child does have a febrile seizure, see a doctor as soon as possible. If it lasts longer than several minutes, call 911.

  5. What Is the Underlying Cause?
    Is your child eating and drinking normally? Is she tugging at her ears or complaining of a headache? Does she have a rash or a sore throat? "What we really want to think about is what is underlying the fever," says Filer. If you can figure that out, you can treat the cause of the fever, not the fever itself. But if the fever goes on for more than a couple of days or your child is just not acting right -- especially if you can't figure out why -- a visit to the doctor is in order.\

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is an award-winning freelance writer and a mom to two girls. She lives in Massachusetts and has written for local and national publications.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan.  Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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