Don't Worry Parents, Fever Is Your Friend
Many parents worry about their child having a fever. Don’t panic — a fever is not the bad guy! It’s actually a great sign that your child’s body is working as it should. Fevers help to "rev up" the immune system to help attack the real bad guys, like viruses and bacteria.
What is a fever?
These are the cutoffs for fever using different types of thermometers:
- Rectal (bottom), ear or forehead temperature: 100.4° F (38.0° C) or higher
- Oral (mouth) temperature: 100° F (37.8° C) or higher
- Under the arm (Armpit) temperature: 99° F (37.2° C) or higher
While normal is commonly quoted as 98.6 F, a normal temperature can vary throughout the course of the day. If you are wondering how to check your child’s temperature, click this link from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Fever in Infants 0-2 Months:
Infants in the first two months of life should have their temperature checked rectally if you are concerned that your child has a fever because this is most accurate method. In this age group, any fever of 100.4 or higher may be dangerous and your child should be seen right away. Contact your healthcare provider without delay to discuss the best way to have your baby seen and treated quickly.
Fevers in Older Babies and Children:
After the first two months of life, we are less worried about whether the temperature is 100.4 or 104. It is common that a child with an infection could have a temperature anywhere in this range (and sometimes a little higher). Fevers do not cause “brain damage” until 108 degrees F, and this does not occur in the setting of infection.
How Long Will It Last?
Typical fevers due to a virus can last 3-4 days. If your child has had 5 days of fever at or above 100.4, please call your healthcare provider to discuss next steps.
When Should I Treat?
Don’t treat the number, treat the child. If your child is feeling badly, you can opt to treat the symptoms with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin). This will help to reduce the fever but it may not bring the temperature back to normal. If your child is playful and happy, there is no need to treat the fever.
Should I Alternate Medicines?
NO! Studies show that this is no more effective at reducing fever than choosing one medicine and giving it according to the recommended interval. In addition, there is increased risk of medication errors when alternating medicines. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be given every 4 hours and ibuprofen can be given every 6 hours. Ibuprofen is slightly more effective and does last longer.
Does Teething Cause Fevers?
No- Studies show that teething does not cause a true fever of 100.4 or higher.
Written by Lynn Dykstra, MD, children’s primary care