By Christina Elston
Fever can be frightening to a parent, especially when it afflicts the very youngest of children. If you’re unsure what to do in the face of a high fever, here are some excellent guidelines from William H. Cotton, M.D., medical director of the Primary Care Centers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio.
First, don’t believe everything you hear about fevers.
Among the myths out there:
• Myth 1 – All fevers are dangerous. Actually, Cotton says, fevers are a part of illness and may be one way that the body fights off disease and infections.
• Myth 2 – Fevers cause brain damage. A child would have to have had a temperature higher than 108º F for brain damage to occur, Cotton says.
• Myth 3 – An untreated fever will continue to rise. In most cases, the child reaches a certain temperature and the temperature does not continue to rise, regardless of whether the fever is treated or not, Cotton says. However, treating the fever does make the child feel better while he or she is recovering from illness.
If your child has a fever, dress him or her comfortably and appropriately (don’t overdress); push fluids and help your child feel better with medicine to control the fever. Stay with one medication for the fever (e.g., don’t alternate between acetaminophen and ibuprofen, because dosing so could become confusing). Remember, however, that ibuprofen is not approved for use in children younger than 6 months, and that you should never use aspirin to control a fever in children.
When your child has a fever, instead of focusing on the specific temperature, look at the whole child.
• Does the child look “sick”?
• Are his eyes glassy? Is he less responsive?
• Does she have poor color (pale)?
• Is he breathing too fast or not fast enough?
• Does she have decreased muscle tone?
• Is he not eating or drinking at all or less than usual?
When to Call the Doctor
Young infants are more susceptible to infections and don’t easily convey that they’re ill. Consult a doctor if your infant (less than 3 months of age) has a temperature of 100.4º F, which may indicate a serious infection. For older children, contact your doctor if they have a temperature of 105º F or a temperature of 104º F that doesn’t respond to fever-reducing medication, Cotton says.
When speaking with your child’s doctor or nurse about the child’s temperature, report what the temperature was and how it was taken.
“The gold standard of temperature taking is still a rectal temperature,” Cotton says. “Most kids don’t like this method and neither do their caretakers. Taking the temperature in the mouth or under the arm are reasonable alternatives. Using an electronic thermometer is faster and easier than using a glass thermometer.”
Christina Elston is a health writer, editor and blogger. Follow her blog on Parenthood.com at HealthE