There are few things that cause a parent’s blood pressure to start rising more than a temperature over 104 or 105.
But what is a fever?
What makes kids have so many fevers?
Are fevers, in fact, dangerous and can they cause “brain damage?”
The surprising truth is that a fever is NOT dangerous at all.
In fact, a fever is the body’s defense mechanism for fighting infections. It is the body’s own thermostat which causes the child’s temperature to rise so that a virus or bacteria cannot live as well in the body.
Parents and Pediatricians treat fevers in children because they generally cause a lot of discomfort and can lead the child to become dehydrated, not because the actual temperature is dangerous.
And another myth smashed! - Usually the height of a fever is not reflective the severity of the illness.
So what do you do when your child is burning up?
First take a breath! Look at your child!
Is your child running around and acting normally?
If the answer is yes, then let it be! Your child’s body is doing what it should do, which is fighting infection with a fever.
Does your child look tired or uncomfortable or fussy?
Get an accurate thermometer and take that temperature. In infants, this means a rectal temperature; avoid forehead swipes - these are infamously inaccurate.
If the temperature is 100.4 or higher and your child is under 2 months old, go to the emergency room (this is the only case where a fever with no other symptoms sends you directly to the ER).
If your child is older than that and has had their first set of vaccines, then go ahead and give some Tylenol (or Ibuprofen if over 6 months old) and re-assess the situation after a few hours.
Is your child LETHARGIC?
This means beyond tired or fussy.
This is when your child does not respond when you call them,
or does not wake up when you try to wake them.
Head to the ER immediately!
So when do you need to see your doctor for a fever?
If a fever lasts longer than 72 hours, or if there are symptoms that suggest a bacteria could be causing symptoms, such as ear pain, pain with urination or sore throat. Or if your child has had cold symptoms for a while, and now has a NEW fever.
If you are not sure, always feel free to call your doctor’s office to discuss it with the the triage nurse!
So moral of the story…
Look at your child, not just their temperature. And let that immune system do its job!
Dr. Nina Niu, who served as an attending physician in the urgent care department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and who, herself, is the mother of two, is no stranger to childhood fevers. She wants parents to know that it is important to understand that fevers have a purpose, but if there is ever a doubt, it is perfectly fine to call your home office, even after hours, to speak to a Pediatric Triage Nurse about your concerns.