Many parents get concerned when their child has a fever. A fever is one of the most common clinical symptoms managed by pediatricians and a leading cause of urgent care and emergency room visits. Although fevers can be a cause for concern, there are many misconceptions surrounding fever in children.
What’s a fever?
A fever is when the body temperature is higher than 100.4? F. For young children and infants, a rectal thermometer gives the most accurate measurement–often more accurate than ear or forehead thermometers. Digital thermometers, used in the mouth or under the armpit, are other ways to measure a temperature in older children.
Is a fever alone considered an illness?
Fever is not an illness by itself; it’s a symptom of an underlying infection or illness. Developing a fever is a normal body mechanism that is actually beneficial when fighting infection. When your child has a fever, the body’s internal thermostat, the hypothalamus, raises the “set point” to 100.4? F or higher in order to combat the infection.
By the time the body fights off the illness, the hypothalamus resets the internal temperature to normal levels, typically around 98.6? F. Pediatricians will often take into account the duration of the fever and overall condition of the child, combined with other signs and symptoms to establish an underlying diagnosis. Although a child’s fever can be frightening for any parent, parents should be reassured that fever indicates your child has a working immune system and is in combat mode, fighting the infection.
What are the most common causes of fever in children?
The most common causes of fever in healthy children are viruses which usually resolve with time and supportive care like getting enough sleep and consuming fluids. Antibiotics are never given for viral infections. In general, fevers caused by viral illnesses will not last longer than four or five days.
Immunizations can occasionally cause a low-grade fever up to 24 hours after the injection. For infants younger than 2 months old, a fever higher than 100.4? F measured rectally may indicate a more serious infection and warrants an immediate call to your pediatrician or a trip to the emergency room.
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Should I give my child anti-fever medication?
It’s okay to think as a parent that there’s a need to maintain a “normal” temperature in your sick child. However, a fever is not known to endanger a generally healthy child. The main benefit of giving your child an anti-fever medication is to improve the child’s overall comfort during the illness. An uncomfortable child may not be as interested in eating or drinking, which can lead to more serious problems like dehydration. And most pediatricians agree a sleeping child who has a fever should not be woken up in order to give anti-fever medications.
The two most common anti-fever medications used to lower the body’s temperature and alleviate discomfort are ibuprofen (Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol). There is no evidence that fever itself gets worse over the course of an illness or that it causes long-term neurologic complications. A common misconception that high fevers, if left untreated, are associated with seizures, brain damage, and death. Febrile seizures are caused by a rapid rise in temperature and anti-fever medications do not prevent seizures in a child with a fever.
What dosage of anti-fever medication should I give my child?
It’s important for parents to understand that the dosages for acetaminophen or ibuprofen are based on the child’s weight. Parents should check with their pediatrician or refer to the back of the medication box to determine the appropriate dose for their child.
There is no major difference between acetaminophen and ibuprofen in lowering a child’s temperature. Ibuprofen is generally not recommended for children younger than 6 months of age. Both ibuprofen and acetaminophen can have serious side effects if a child is given more than the recommended dose, so following instructions is important. It cannot be stressed enough; remember to keep all medications in the household in a locked cabinet out of reach of the child. Acetaminophen is the single most common ingredient involved in ER visits for medication overdoses in children.
The more parents understand about fevers, the more at ease they should feel when working with their pediatrician. Pediatricians are focused on providing quality care for children, especially when a fever is involved, in order to keep them comfortable and out of danger.
Daniel Sinyor, MD is a Board Certified Pediatrician at Crystal Run Healthcare and is seeing patients in the practice’s West Nyack and Monroe offices.