When to See a Doctor for a Fever

By Robynn Lowe
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
October 3, 2022

For most adults, having a temperature above 100.4°F is considered a fever. Most fevers can be managed at home and will start to improve within several days. Still, knowing when to speak with a medical provider for a fever can help you get the care you need and avoid complications. 

If you have a fever that won’t go down after several days of rest, have a temperature of 103°F or higher, or experience severe symptoms such as chest pain or difficulty breathing, it’s best to talk to your provider. Read on to learn more.

When to See a Doctor for Fever

Mild fevers can be treated at home. For fevers of 103°F or higher, adults should contact their medical provider or seek emergency care. 

Additional symptoms that warrant more immediate medical attention are:

  • A fever that does not improve after three days of rest and home care
  • Severe headache
  • Severe throat swelling
  • Unusual skin rash
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Stiff neck (or pain when you bend your head forward)
  • Mental confusion
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain when urinating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Extreme irritability
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sensory changes
  • Seizure

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What’s Considered a Fever?

One factor that helps distinguish a fever from normal variations in body temperature is age. 

Infant

Any elevated temperature in an infant or child younger than three months old is considered a fever.

Children

A child’s temperature can be read using different types of thermometers. The below temperatures are considered a fever in children three months and older:

  • 100°F via oral thermometer
  • 100.4°F via rectal thermometer
  • 99°F axillary temperature (taken in the armpit)

Adults

Any temperature above 100.4°F is considered a fever in adults.

Common Fever Causes

A fever can be a sign of many conditions. Some of the most common causes of a fever include:

  • A viral or bacterial infection
  • Medicines (including antibiotics and blood pressure and anti-seizure medications)
  • Heat illness
  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Some vaccines

Additional Possible Symptoms

A fever is a symptom of a condition, rather than an illness itself. Depending on the type of illness you have, you may experience other symptoms such as:

Medical Treatment

Many fevers can be treated at home with rest, fluids, and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. If you need to seek treatment from a medical provider, depending on the underlying cause of your fever, they might recommend one of the following treatments:

  • Antibiotics or antivirals
  • Other prescription medications
  • Intravenous medications
  • Fluid replacement

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Fever Risks

Dehydration is a common risk of a fever. That’s why it’s important to rest and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of non-caffeinated liquids (such as water, herbal tea, and electrolyte-based fluids) when you have a fever. 

Additional risks are possible in people with certain medical conditions, including diabetes and cancer. If you’re immunocompromised and have a fever, contact your medical provider for guidance.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can access online urgent care with K Health?

Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. 

K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and is based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is too long to have a fever?
Some fevers last longer than others. If you have a fever that doesn’t begin to improve within three days, contact your medical provider for care.
When should a patient see the doctor for a fever?
Most fevers can be treated at home with rest and drinking plenty of fluids. However, speak with a medical provider if you have: a fever that doesn’t go down in several days, a fever of 103°F or higher, or certain symptoms (including chest pain, shortness of breath, or severe throat swelling). If your infant has any elevated temperature, speak with their pediatrician as soon as possible.
What do you do when a fever won’t go down?
A mild fever may take a few days to go down on its own. In the meantime, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids (avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages). You can also take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) to help the fever go down. If your fever doesn’t improve within three days, contact your medical provider.
Should you go to the hospital if you have a fever?
You don’t need to go to the hospital for a mild fever. But if you have a fever of 103°F or higher, have a fever that won’t go down after several days, or are experiencing additional symptoms, seek medical treatment.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Robynn Lowe

Robynn Lowe is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years in the medical field. Robynn received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Florida Atlantic University and has been practicing in rural family medicine since. Robynn is married to her college sweetheart, Raymond and they have three awesome children. When Robynn isn't with patients you can find her shopping, coaching her kids sports teams, or spending time on the water.