What is a Fever? 

Fever is generally defined as a temperature inside the body of 100.4 or more. Normal childhood temperatures range from 97 - 100 F and 98.6 F is considered the average.   

The impression that your child has a fever because he feels hot is probably more accurate than we used to think but if you're going to call the doctor, please use a thermometer. The most accurate methods for measuring are oral, rectal, or ear thermometers (used in the appropriate places!). Axillary (armpit) or forehead thermometers are OK but can be misleading so we discourage your using them if you're truly concerned about a fever. 

What causes a fever?

Though having a fever is indeed a sign of infection, fever is not, in and of itself, an illness! Fever is actually one of the body's many ways of helping to fight infection. It helps make the immune system work more efficiently and even interferes with how germs multiply, all of which helps your child to recover more quickly. In short, fever is good for the home team, bad for the visitor! 

A few more points worth noting: Fevers caused by infection do not cause brain damage. Perhaps the most frightening consequence of fever is a seizure. The vast majority of these will occur between 6 months and 5 years of age, last less than 5 minutes and are harmless to the child. 

How should I treat my child?

Remember that fever is not the enemy and helps fight the infection. If your child is obviously uncomfortable, consider the following options: 

  1. Remove excess clothing to only t-shirt and diaper or underwear.  
  2. Offer cold liquids, ice chips or popsicles. 
  3. Give acetaminophen * (Tylenol) to children 3 months and older or ibuprofen (Motrin) for children 6 months of age or older.

Dosing Chart for Acetaminophen

 6-11 lbs.  over 2 months  1.25 mL  ---
 12 - 17 lbs  4-11 months  2.5 mL  ---
 18 - 23 lbs  12-23 months  3.75 mL  ---
 24 - 35 lbs  24-36 months  5 mL  ---

Dosing Chart for Ibuprofen

 12  - 17 lbs  1.25 ml   ½ tsp  ---
 18 - 23 lbs  1.875 ml  ¾ tsp  ---
 24 - 35 lbs  2.5 ml  1 tsp  1 tablet
 36 - 47 lbs  ---  1 ½ tsp  1 ½ tablets

Sponging is an option if high fever persists.  Of course, remove all clothing first and use warm (skin temperature) water, as cool water can cause shivering which defeats the purpose of the bath.  Never use alcohol to sponge bathe as this can be potentially toxic.  *Do not give fever medication to children 2 months of age or younger unless you have consulted your physician first.  

When should I call the doctor?

Immediately if:

  • Your child is 2 months of age or younger
  • Your child's fever is over 104  F
  • Your child has a seizure
  • Your child looks or acts very sick.

Not immediately, but within 24 hours or so, if:

  • Your child is 3 - 6 months of age
  • Your child is under 2 years of age with fever lasting longer than 24 hours without apparent cause or symptoms
  • Your child's fever went away for 24 hours or more then returned
  • You have other concerns or questions.    

This page was authored by Dr. Lauren Mitchell.