A fever is a temperature greater than or equal to 100.4º F or 38º C. Fever in children is very common. Fever is a normal body response that helps the body fight infections.
The information in this video is for otherwise healthy children older than 3 months. If your child is younger than 3 months old, or has a health problem that makes infection more likely, always call your child's doctor for advice when your child has a fever.
Your child's temperature is not the most important thing to monitor when your child has a fever. Most of the time you won't even need to take your child's temperature. Instead, pay attention to the symptoms your child is experiencing along with the fever.
These are normal symptoms: Faster heart rate and breathing; shivering; cold hands and feet; head and body aches; tired and fussy; poor appetite. You don't necessarily need to call the doctor if your child has these symptoms.
More on Fever in Healthy Kids
These are abnormal symptoms: Extremely sleepy or irritable; trouble breathing; rashes; pain, redness or swelling in one area (like a sore throat or a red, swollen knee); drinking very little or not at all; severely decreased urination; fever lasting longer than 3 days; seizure. You should call the doctor if your child has any of these symptoms, or if your instincts are telling you something isn't right.
Parents worry that a high fever will cause seizures or brain damage. A high temperature will not cause brain damage, and seizures due to fever are rare.
Fever in kids: when to call the doctor
Let's talk about fever. Fever in kids can cause lots of worry. This video will help you learn how to manage your child's fever at home and when you should call the doctor. Remember that we're talking about healthy children older than 3 months. For children younger than 3 months and children of any age who have health problems that make infection more likely, a fever can be a sign of a more serious infection. Always call your doctor for advice.
What is a fever? A fever is your body's normal response to infection. It actually helps you get better. The formal definition of a fever is a temperature greater than or equal to 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius.
Why do you get a fever? Fever is really common in younger kids. They like to put things in their mouth. This is one way they're exposed to more germs. This isn't bad. Getting infections actually builds your immune system. Two types of germs cause infections: viruses and bacteria. Both can cause fever. Most of the time, it's a virus making your child sick. Your immune system takes care of viruses. Antibiotics don't help.
Bacteria are different. They cause infections that may get worse if they're not treated with antibiotics. Examples are urinary tract infections and strep throat.
Why does fever make you feel bad? Even though fever makes you feel bad, fever is actually helping your body get well. Fever is your friend. When a virus or bacteria enters the body, the brain turns the thermostat up. A higher temperature makes it harder for the germs to multiply. The heart rate goes up, so breathing gets faster and harder. Muscle activity increases, so your child might shiver and feel achy. Their hands and feet may feel cold and they might have a headache. And of course, they'll be tired and cranky.
All of these fever symptoms are typical and expected: faster heart rate and breathing, shivering, cold hands and feet, headache and body aches, tired and fussy, and poor appetite.
One fear about fever is that it can cause seizures and brain damage. A high temperature will not cause brain damage, and seizures due to fever are rare. When seizures from fever do occur, they're usually brief and don't cause harm.
How can I help? Most of the time, you won't even need to check the temperature with a thermometer. You can usually tell that your child has a fever just by touch. If your child has a fever, dress them in light clothing, put a cool washcloth on their forehead, make sure they rest, and encourage them to drink.
Fever makes the body work harder, so it uses more water. If your child isn't urinating or having a wet diaper at least once every 6 to 8 hours, call your doctor.
If your child seems very uncomfortable, you can use fever medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. These medicines work by resetting the body's thermostat closer to normal, but they're not necessary.
If you do use fever medicine, choose just one; don't alternate. And be sure to give the correct dose. Fever may come back when the medicine wears off and that's OK. Fever will go up and down on its own, whether you give your child medicine or not. And the fever will be higher in the afternoon and at night.
When should I call the doctor? Kids who have fever will act sick, but a few times during the day, they should be perkier. If you see this, feel reassured. Many parents think that their child's temperature is the main thing to watch and worry about. But it's much more important to focus on the other symptoms, as you decide whether you need to call a doctor.
It's time to call your doctor if your child has any of these symptoms: extremely sleepy or irritable; trouble breathing; rashes; pain, redness or swelling localized in one area (like a bad sore throat or a red, swollen knee); drinking very little or not at all; severely decreased urination; fever lasting longer than three days; or seizure.
If you have a feeling that something isn't right, trust your instincts and call your doctor. Remember, if your child has a fever, don't panic, and don't worry too much about the temperature; focus on the symptoms.
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Related Centers and Programs: Primary Care Locations, Division of Infectious Diseases