Understanding Fever in Children
A child with a fever can leave a parent feeling helpless, fearful and worried. Fevers indicate an illness and it is difficult for parents to predict what the illness is and how to proceed. Fortunately, fevers are not often dangerous and occur without incident, even with a fever in children.
Most fevers are done in a day or two and are not much to worry about. To ease a parent's fears, it helps for parents to understand why and how fevers occur.
What is a Fever?
A fever is high body temperature. For most children, their normal body temperature runs at about 98.5F. For most children, a fever is considered a temperature of about 99.5F. Fevers are common for every person. The body fights infections through fevers.
Fevers Help the Body
When a bacteria, virus, or illness occurs in the body, the immune system response is triggered. The immune response initiates the body to fight off invaders such as viruses and bacteria. The body attacks these foreign invaders and makes things as uncomfortable as possible for them to remain in the body.
Part of this immune response is an increase in the body’s temperature. This increase in temperature kills most of the viruses or bacteria. So, in short, fevers are a necessary way for the body to manage infections and illnesses.
Causes of Fever in Children
A fever is not an illness or disease. It is only a symptom of one. A viral or bacterial infection can cause a fever. Because children have underdeveloped immune systems and have not been exposed to many viruses, most children are susceptible and experience at least several fevers a year. Anyone who has a toddler or young school-age child living in their home knows that children often become sick, but bounce back fairly quickly.
Other factors can also cause fevers. Vaccinations may sometimes cause fevers. Dehydration or overheating, like in the case of too much bedding or clothing, can also create an increase in body temperature.
Signs of a Fever in Children
The best way to check a child’s temperature is with a thermometer. It’s best to obtain a quality thermometer and learn how to use and read it.
Children may also show behavioral changes when they have a fever. Some children will be quieter than usual and may decrease their activity. Others may become fussier and may not eat or drink quite as much.
Taking a Child’s Temperature
Taking a child's temperature with a quality thermometer is essential. Placing a hand on a child's forehead may not be the best indicator of a fever. Many times, a child may feel like they are "burning up," but their temperature remains close to normal.
Taking a child's temperature correctly helps to obtain an accurate reading. A child under five months requires a rectal thermometer. Oral temperatures are the best thermometers to use once a child can tolerate them. Temperatures are taken with a tympanic (ear), temporal (forehead), or armpit may not be as accurate, though they can still be used if necessary.
What is Considered a High Fever?
For most children, a fever is considered a temperature of about 99.5F. A fever higher than 102F (or 39C) is considered to be high. Though it is usually nothing serious, consulting a child's physician or a trip to an emergency room may be necessary.
Treating a Child’s Fever
Treating a fever does not help it go away any faster. It does, however, decrease a child's discomfort. In children, a temperature that causes discomfort should be addressed. A lukewarm, not cold, sponge-bath can help to lower a fever.
Medication should not be administered unless a physician is consulted first. Aspirin should never be administered to a young child.
Fevers and Seizures
Young children ages six months to five years may sometimes experience a seizure during a fever. These are called febrile seizures. Though they may appear frightening to parents, most febrile seizures only last a few minutes and are not harmful.
If a child is experiencing their first febrile seizure, an emergency should be called as a precaution. Never place anything in a child's mouth or try to prevent them from moving during a seizure. Keep them away from anything harmful and lay them on their side to ensure an open airway. Children will usually outgrow febrile seizures.
When to See a Physician
You should see a doctor when fevers last for prolonged periods. A fever that lasts for more than two days requires a trip to the child's physician as soon as possible.
The following situations require immediate medical care:
- Fever in a child younger than three months.
- A newborn gets a fever of 100.4F or higher
- Extremely high fevers. Temperatures of 104F at any age should require medical assistance right away.
- Pain, stiffness, or rash. If a child is experiencing pain or stiffness, especially in the head or neck area, emergency assistance is needed. A rash anywhere on the body, along with a fever, also requires medical attention.
Fevers are Beneficial
For the most part, children will not experience any harm from a fever. If they remain interactive and engaged, then a fever is usually nothing to worry about. Keeping a child hydrated and feeling safe is all that is required. It’s best to let the body do its job and fight for the child. Meanwhile, make sure the child is comfortable and getting lots of love and care.