What’s a fever for my child?

Posted on August 2, 2011 

Fever is one of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor’s office.  Here are a few things every parent should know about fever. 

What is a fever? 
It is an elevation of body temperature greater than 100.5.  Normal body temperature is around 98.6, however it can vary throughout the day and from person to person.  In general, our body temperature is lower in the morning and higher in the afternoon and evening.  Even though temperatures of 98.7-100.4 are “elevated” they are still not considered a true fever. 

How do I take my child’s temperature? 
A digital thermometer can be used orally, rectally or under the arm; this is the type of thermometer I recommend every parent should have.  Which method you use depends on the child’s age.  For newborns up to the age of three months, the best way to take their temperature is rectally.  From age 3 months up to 4 years, you may take the temperature under the arm.  For children older than 4 years an oral temperature may be taken.

What about the tympanic (ear) thermometers? 
I got one as a shower present; can I use it on my newborn?  Even though these types of thermometers are very convenient, if not used properly they can give false readings.  The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend this type of thermometer for young infants and children. 

My child has a fever, now what? 
First, don’t panic.  Fever is a natural way for the body to protect itself.  Instead of focusing on how high the fever is, pay attention to how your child is acting.  If your child is under 2 months of age, notify your pediatrician immediately.    For older children, if he/she looks well, you may treat the fever with either Tylenol or Motrin (age appropriate dose) and see what happens.  If your child is not acting right, you may want to have them see their doctor. 

Will a high fever (>104) hurt my child? 
There are a lot of misconceptions about high fevers and brain damage.  In general, high fevers are not harmful to the body.  Before standard immunizations, high fevers were commonly caused by meningitis, which is an infection in the brain.  These children frequently had hearing loss or brain damage because of the meningitis, not the fever.  Today, most high fevers are caused by viruses and so even though the temperature may be high, it shouldn’t hurt your child. 

If your child is sick and you feel uncomfortable at all about how they are doing, it is always a good idea to contact your pediatrician’s office.  Our nurses are excellent about talking with parents about what’s going on and deciding whether or not they should come in to be seen.  When in doubt, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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