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Infant and Child Health


Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Fever is usually defined as an oral temperature above 37.4°C (99.4°F).

For information about taking accurate temperatures in infants and children, See How to Take a Temperature.

In most but not all cases, fever indicates that an illness is present. By itself, a fever is not harmful; in fact, it may help the body fight infections more effectively.

In children, viral infections, such as colds, flu, and chickenpox, can cause high fevers. Flu (See Influenza (Flu)) can cause a high fever for 5 days or longer. Bacterial infections, such as strep throat and ear infections, also cause fevers. Teething does not cause a fever. If a baby is teething and has a fever, other symptoms may be present that need to be evaluated. Body temperature can also rise above normal when an infant is overdressed or in a room that is too warm.

Children tend to run higher fevers than adults do. Although high fevers are uncomfortable, they do not often cause medical problems. Convulsions from fever (febrile seizures) occur only occasionally. See feverconvulsions Although frightening, fever convulsions in children age 6 months to 4 years are seldom serious and do not cause harm. Two to 4 percent of children in this age group are prone to fever convulsions. About 30 percent of children who have a fever convulsion will have another one in the future..

There is no medical evidence that fevers from infection can cause brain damage. The body limits a fever caused by infection from going above 40.6°C (105°F). However, heat from an external source (like sunshine on a parked car) can cause the body temperature to go above 41.1°C (106°F), and brain damage can occur rapidly.

Home Treatment

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It can be hard to know when to call your doctor when your child has a fever, especially during the cold and flu season.

The height of a fever may not be related to the seriousness of the illness. The way your child looks and acts is a better guide than the thermometer is.

Most children will be less active when they have a fever. If your child is comfortable and alert, eating well, drinking enough fluids, urinating normal amounts, and seems to be improving, Home Treatment is all that is needed.

  • Encourage the child to drink extra fluids or suck on frozen fruit pops.

  • Dress the child lightly, and do not wrap him or her in blankets.

If the fever is higher than 38.3°C (101°F) and your child is uncomfortable:

  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20.

  • If the fever is 39.4°C (103°F) or higher, sponge the child with lukewarm water for 20 to 30 minutes. Do not use cold water, ice, or rubbing alcohol. Stop cooling the child if he or she starts to shiver.

  • Keep encouraging the child to drink extra fluids, and watch for signs of dehydration (See Dehydration).

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If fever occurs with vomiting, severe headache, sleepiness, lethargy, stiff neck, or a bulging soft spot on an infant's head. See Encephalitis and Meningitis.

  • If fever is accompanied by these symptoms:

    • Rapid, difficult breathing.

    • Drooling or inability to swallow.

    • Purple rash that does not lighten when you press on it.

    • Vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain (See Diarrhea and Vomiting).

    • Signs of dehydration (See Dehydration).

    • Unexplained skin rash (See Childhood Rashes for common childhood illnesses that cause rashes).

    • Ear pain (babies often pull at painful ears). See Ear Infections on See Ear Infections.

    • Pain when urinating (crying when urinating), not caused by painful diaper rash.

    • New swelling, pain, redness, or warmth in 1 or more joints.

    • Any unusual or severe pain.

  • If an infant younger than 3 months of age has a fever of 36.3°C (99.4°F) or higher.

  • If a child age 3 months to 3 years has a fever that:

    • Is 39.4°C (103°F) or higher and does not come down after 4 to 6 hours of Home Treatment.

    • Is 38.3° to 39.4°C (101° to 103°F) and does not come down after 24 hours.

    • Is 37.2° to 38.3°C (99° to 101°F) and does not come down after 48 hours.

  • If the child has a fever and seems sicker than you would expect from a viral illness, such as a cold or the flu.

  • If the child becomes delirious or has hallucinations.

  • If the child's fever began after he or she took a new medication.

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