Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Assessing a Child’s Fever
When should you be concerned?

December 01, 2012

“Fever” can be a scary word for parents—sometimes, inordinately so. After all, a fever indicates your child’s body is doing what it’s supposed to do to fight infection. Learning what to do for a child with a fever and when a fever might indicate something serious should be on every parent’s to-do list.

Honey, you feel warm

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), a child has a fever if his or her temperature exceeds 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit when measured orally or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit when taken rectally. Many parents prefer to take their toddlers’ temperatures by mouth, but the AAFP reports that rectal temperature taking yields the most accurate results. Either way, it is best to use a digital thermometer.

Infections are the most common cause of fever, but immunizations, wearing too many clothes and heat exposure can also cause a toddler’s body temperature to rise above its normal 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (99.6 degrees if measured rectally). Most of the time, a fever isn’t cause for alarm in an otherwise healthy child, especially one who remains alert, still wants to play and continues to eat and drink normally. Your toddler may not need medication if his or her fever isn’t causing pain or discomfort, however, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve symptoms and reduce the fever.

What to Do and When

Some fevers—those that last more than several days are associated with petechiae (a pinpoint rash) or mental status change—may require more immediate medical attention. A primary care provider may also need to evaluate a child who displays the following symptoms, regardless of his or her temperature:

• Diarrhea

• Difficulty breathing

• Dry mouth

• Lack of appetite

• Sore throat

• Stomach pain

• Vomiting

Whether your child’s fever warrants swift medical attention, a phone call to your primary care provider or simply careful monitoring at home, you’ll want to make him or her as comfortable as possible. If not drinking well, offer him or her an electrolyte-replenishing liquid, water, gelatin or ice pops to stave off dehydration. Do not attempt to actively cool your child with cold water/baths or alcohol rubs. Dress your child in his or her favorite pair of lightweight cotton pajamas and ensure he or she gets plenty of sleep.

With proper care, your little one will likely be back to his or her active self in no time.    

For other information about caring for a child with a fever, visit www.kidshealthline.com and search for “fever”.

This article was reviewed by David Zipes, M.D., medical director, pediatric hospital medicine, Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent.