What is a fever?
A fever is a body temperature that is higher than normal and is a healthy response to infection.
While the average normal body temperature is 98.6°F (37.0°C), a normal temperature range is between 97.5°F (36.4°C) and 99.5°F (37.5°C).
Most pediatricians consider a temperature 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher a sign of a fever.
Although teething may cause a slight rise in body temperature, it’s probably not the cause if a child’s temperature is higher than 100°F (37.8°C).
Many viruses and bacteria cannot survive when the body’s temperature is outside the normal range for humans (97-99 degrees Fahrenheit).
Although your child’s fever may cause your child to feel and look ill- and cause you to feel worried or anxious- fevers are generally harmless. In fact, having a fever means your child’s immune system is fighting an infection.
Expect that the fever will “spike” (or peak) at least once every 24 hours. When your child has a full 24 hours without fever and without fever-reducing medications, it is usually safe to consider the illness resolved and your child may return to school or daycare.
How to Treat a Fever
Treating fevers does not treat the underlying cause of the fever. Your child probably does not need to be treated for the fever unless your child is uncomfortable.
Watch your child’s behavior. If your child is drinking, eating, and sleeping normally and is able to play, you do not need to treat the fever. Instead, you should wait to see if the fever improves by itself.
Fever-reducing over-the-counter medications include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil).
These medications come in liquid, chewable, dissolvable powders, tablet and capsule forms. Tylenol also comes as a suppository (a pill that is put in the rectum) for children vomiting and can not keep down medication. Follow instructions on the package for your child’s age and weight.
Note: Avoid ibuprofen in infants less than 6 months of age.
If you would like acetaminophen or ibuprofen dosing specific to your child’s age and weight, check in with K for Parents. Our doctors can give you exact dosing instructions.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) 12.5mg/kg every 4 hours as needed for fever.
Ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil) 10mg/kg every 6 hours as needed for fever.
Other supportive cares to help your child with fever feel better include:
- Dressing your child in light clothing and keeping the room comfortably cool.
- A luke-warm bath (bath water 100 degrees fahrenheit) should still feel warm to you, but a child with fever >101, the water will feel cool.
- At bedtime, consider cooling a bedsheet in the refrigerator or freezer prior to placing on the bed to keep your child comfortable.
- Encourage your child to drink plenty of water or store-bought oral rehydration solutions because fevers increase body water loss and can contribute to dehydration.
What Not to Do
- Do not use aspirin to treat your child’s fever or discomfort. Aspirin has been linked with side effects such as an upset stomach, intestinal bleeding, and Reye syndrome. Reye syndrome is a serious illness that affects the liver and brain.
- Do not use sponging to reduce your child’s fever. Cool or cold water can cause shivering and increase your child’s temperature.
- Never apply rubbing alcohol on your child to treat fever. Rubbing alcohol can be absorbed into the skin or inhaled, causing serious problems such as a coma.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s health, check in with K for Parents and ask the doctor.
Check in with K if…
- You have questions about new symptoms.
- You want the doctor to reassess your child’s current condition.
- You have questions about medications or dosing.
- You have questions about your child returning to school/work.
See a doctor in person if…
- Your child has fever for 5 days or more in a row.
- Your child continues to “act sick” when the fever goes down.
- Your child looks very ill, is unusually drowsy, or is very fussy
- Your child has severe pain not relieved by Tylenol or ibuprofen.
- Has other symptoms such as a stiff neck, severe headache, severe sore throat, severe ear pain, breathing difficulty, an unexplained rash, or repeated vomiting or diarrhea
- Has had a seizure
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.