Fever FYI: Don't Panic

by Christina Elston

Fever is no fun, but it’s also usually nothing for parents to be afraid of. That’s the messagefever in a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), offering the first consensus guidelines for pediatricians and parents on the issue.

Fever is one of the most common reasons why children are seen by a pediatrician, according to Janice Sullivan, M.D., a critical care pediatrician at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Kentucky who co-authored the report in the March issue of Pediatrics. But while fever makes kids uncomfortable, a fever alone won’t do a child any harm. That means a parent’s first priority, rather than just getting the child’s temperature to “normal,” should be to look for other signs of illness, the AAP advises.

“It’s important for parents to understand that fever is a sign of an illness,” says Sullivan, “but they need to look for other signs that might tell them what is going on with their child.” A child with fever and earache, for instance, might have an ear infection and should see a pediatrician. A child with fever, vomiting and diarrhea, on the other hand, might be just fine with some extra fluids and a few days of rest.

There’s also no need to reach for medication to bring the fever down – unless you’re just hoping to make your child feel more comfortable. The idea that fever can cause brain damage or other harm is a myth, Sullivan says. If you’re going to use a fever-reducing medication, she stresses that you should:

• Know the correct dose for your child. Dosing by weight is better than following the age-based guidelines listed on the packaging, so ask your pediatrician or your pharmacist for help.

• Use an appropriate measuring device. If you don’t find one packaged with the medication, you can buy one at the pharmacy.

• Don’t wake a sleeping child to take his temperature or give him fever-reducing medication.

Make sure a child with fever drinks plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Seek medical attention if the fever lingers beyond a few days, or if your child is lethargic, has trouble breathing, or has a rash or other symptoms indicating serious illness. Exceptions include infants under 2-3 months of age with fever of 100.4 ºF or higher, who should always be seen by a pediatrician right away, and children with certain chronic medical conditions.

Christina Elston is the editor of L.A. Parent magazine and a health writer and editor for

October 2011