Every parent worries when their child's temperature goes up. A warm
forehead raises fears of a potentially serious illness. But it's not
necessarily the case. Although it can be scary when your child gets a
fever itself is not harmful – and may even be beneficial.
“Fever is a symptom, not a disease,“ says
Lisa Hoang, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. “Most experts agree that fever is a normal, healthy defense against
infections. In most cases, fever indicates a minor illness. To determine
how serious the illness is, parents and their physicians must look at
When should you call the doctor about your child's fever?
Parents need to be extra cautious when their baby's or toddler's
temperature rises. Babies less than 3 months old should be seen by a doctor
any time their rectal temperature exceeds 100.4 F, because they can become
seriously ill very quickly. Babies aged 3 to 6 months who have a fever
of 100-102 F that is accompanied by significant discomfort or lethargy
should also be seen by a doctor. Parents should also pay careful attention
to the length of time the fever lasts. For all toddlers under age 2, call
the doctor if the fever lasts more than one day; for small children over
the age of 2, they should be seen if the fevers are more than three days.
Other symptoms that may be cause for concern when accompanied by fever
include: Lethargy, sore throat, severe headache, cough, trouble breathing,
poor appetite, vomiting, earache, stiff neck, rash, pain with urination or
diarrhea. When your febrile child has any of these additional symptoms, you should
seek medical care.
A minor viral illness will usually cause a fever that goes away in 3 to
4 days. Although a child may feel fussy and uncomfortable with a high
fever, fevers rarely cause medical problems in themselves. It is not unusual
for preschoolers to get 6-10 viral infections in a single year, and each
one may cause a new fever, but a normal healthy child should get over
these viral infections relatively easily.
When should you take a feverish child to the hospital?
“How the child looks is more important than the number itself. Even
if the fever is not high but your child is lethargic, not breathing well,
extremely uncomfortable or in pain, you should have them evaluated. Babies
under 3 months old should be evaluated when they have a fever," says
Dr. Hoang. "High fevers can sometimes cause seizures called febrile
seizures. If your child has a seizure or has a pre-existing medical condition
such as a weakened immune system, there should, of course, be no hesitation
about taking him or her to the hospital right away.”
How do you take your child’s temperature?
If your child is older, you may use an oral thermometer that you place
under the tongue. For toddlers and infants, you should use one that you
place under their arm. If there is any concern or question about the accuracy
of an infant’s temperature under the arm, the most accurate temperature
is one that is done rectally. A fever is 100.4 or above.
There are also non-emergency causes of fever:
- Viral infections such as a minor cold or flu
“When children have few symptoms and the fever seems mild, there
is probably no need to worry,” adds Dr. Hoang. “But when something
seems really wrong, they should trust their gut and contact a medical
“Fevers can be uncomfortable, so acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help
the child feel a little better. However, for children under two years
old, parents should discuss the dosages with their doctor,” advises
Dr. Hoang. You can also help them feel more comfortable
without using medicine. “Try giving them a lukewarm tub bath or sponge bath, to help cool
the skin, or place a damp washcloth on the child’s forehead. Keep
your child well hydrated. You can also remove a layer of clothing to keep
your child comfortable.”
If your child has a fever but you feel that it isn't an emergency,
consider taking them to an
urgent care, where doctors can treat problems that are not life-threatening. If urgent
intervention is truly required, they can help manage the next steps in
your child’s care. Click
here for a directory of St. Joseph Health urgent care locations in Southern
California For St. Joseph Health urgent care locations in Northern California, click
here for the Sonoma area and click
here for Napa..
How have you successfully handled childhood fever? Share your story and
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.