Throughout your child’s life, one of the most common and worrisome issues that can come up is a fever. You know how the signs begin: chills, a warmer body, and flushed cheeks; but what does your child’s fever mean?
No matter how well or badly your child is feeling, a fever can be a sign that something isn’t quite right. When a fever comes around, that means your child’s body is reacting to an infection or virus; a fever is a sign that your child’s body is fighting back! Even though fevers are a sign of healthy bodies reacting to illness, they definitely can make your child feel lousy.
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Especially for our youngest patients, who can’t easily say what hurts or that they feel sick, a fever is a clear indicator that they are experiencing sickness or pain. Even as children age, fevers, combined with other symptoms, can be dangerous and must be met with quick medical attention.
But the question remains: what do I do about my child’s fever? With our easy guide below, we help you navigate the highs and lows of fevers, and how to react along the way. As always, contact your pediatrician for specific medical advice for your child. For a general guide to cold and flu season, follow along below:
Best Way to Check a Child’s Temperature
Depending on your child’s age, their temperature can be taken differently, using different thermometers. The fastest and most accurate of all the different kinds of thermometers is the digital thermometer. Most doctors recommend using digital thermometers versus other kinds.
For infants under 3 months of age, the most effective and accurate way to check temperature is rectally, using a digital thermometer. There are two ways to easily take a rectal temperature. With the face down method, place a blanket on your lap, and then lay your baby across your lap, facing downwards. Take your baby’s temperature by using petroleum jelly to insert the thermometer; hold it for 3 minutes to allow the temperature to register. You can also take your baby’s temperature by laying them face up on a firm surface and holding their legs up, with their knees towards their chest. Then proceed to insert the thermometer and get a reading.
You can also take your baby’s temperature under the armpit with a digital thermometer. While not as accurate, this will allow you to get a general idea of if your child has a fever or not. Most daycares and schools will use this method as a general guide if your child has symptoms of being sick.
Fever strips and pacifier thermometers are not usually recommended, as they tend to not be as accurate. We also discourage parents from using glass thermometers, as the mercury inside can poison your child if they are exposed to it.
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For older children, you can use a variety of thermometers. The most popular is the digital thermometer, but there are also ones that get a reading by being inserted into the ear or pressed against the forehead. The most accurate way of taking the temperature of an older child is by using a digital thermometer under the tongue. This should be used after your child is 4 years old.
Be aware of what your child has just eaten or had a warm or cold drink when you take their temperature. For example, if your child has a sore throat and just had some soup to ease the pain, wait about 20 minutes for your child to reach his or her resting temperature for the most accurate temperature reading.
Have a Fever? When to Call Your Pediatrician
Depending on your child’s age, there can be different degrees of worry when it comes to fevers. Here is a quick guide for when it is time to call Pediatrics East:
- If your child is under three months old, any fever should be addressed. If his or her temperature is above 100.4 degrees, it is time to call us.
- For children ages three months to three years, call us if there is a fever of 102 degrees or higher.
- For all kids three years and older, a fever of 103 degrees or higher means it is time to call Pediatrics East.
- If a fever of 102 degrees or higher lasts for more than two days, please give us a call, too.
When to See the Pediatrician
Newborn - 3 Months
100.4 Degrees or Higher
3 Months - 3 Years
102 Degrees or Higher
3 Years and Older
103 Degrees or Higher
102 Degrees or Higher for More than 2 Days
Along with these guidelines, it is important to call Pediatrics East if your baby has not received immunizations and has a fever. Also, please call your pediatrician if your child experiences excessive vomiting or diarrhea, if your child seems dehydrated, or if a serious rash is present with the fever.
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If your child is experiencing more severe symptoms with their fever, it does make sense to skip calling Pediatrics East and head to the emergency room. Go to the emergency room in the following circumstances:
- Your child is not breathing or has trouble breathing
- Severe abdominal pain
- Your child has a seizure
- Your child has any other apparent problems, such as swelling or trouble swallowing
Low-grade Fever? What to Do Now
If your child (age six months and older) has a fever that registers above 100.4 degrees and below 102 degrees, you are in a bit of an in-between zone for the first couple of days. While it isn’t necessary to bring your child to Pediatrics East, you will need to keep your child home from daycare or school.
If there are other symptoms in addition to their fever, such as a sore throat, bad cough, or other issues, be sure to monitor the temperature every few hours. If his or her fever begins to rise, it can be a sign of an infection or virus that might need immediate attention. As mentioned above, if a fever persists for several days, give us a call.
Here are the steps you can take to help lower a fever:
- Give Tylenol (infant or kid variety, depending on their age).
- Take a lukewarm bath (not a cold or ice water bath) or a sponge bath.
- Give plenty of fluids, such as water and juices.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.
No Fever, but Still Sick?
Does your child not have a fever, but still appears sick? Monitor his or her symptoms and temperature to determine whether the sickness is getting worse. The best thing you can do for your child is to keep fluids going, feed comforting foods, give lots of love, and call us if symptoms persist or worsen. To get a better idea of what may be bothering your child, check our Child Illnesses pages to learn more about what your child could be experiencing. Of course, you can always call our office to talk through any concerns or worries you have.