Although most fevers are not dangerous, they can cause your child to be very uncomfortable while they last. Having a fever means that your child’s temperature is higher than normal, often because of an infection or illness. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an oral temperature of 99 degrees Fahrenheit or less and a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or less is a normal temperature for most children. However, when your child’s temperature rises above these numbers, it is important to know how to ease their discomfort.
What is a fever?
The part of the brain that controls temperature is called the hypothalamus, which sends messages out to the body to maintain a normal internal temperature. However, different things can upset this delicate balance, resulting in abrupt temperature changes. A rise in temperature, called a fever, is your body’s way of dealing with an infection or illness. Oftentimes, a fever is caused by the immune system’s response to foreign invaders in the body, such as viruses, bacteria and other infectious microorganisms that can cause harm. When these bugs invade the body, your immune system sends out white blood cells to fight the infection. While this battle is raging, your internal temperature may rise, resulting in a fever. Immunizations can also cause a fever in children because of the immune system working overtime to develop antibodies to the vaccine. However, fever in a child is often not a cause for concern and passes just as quickly as it started.
Signs of a Fever
Although the most obvious sign of a fever is a higher than normal temperature, many children also display other symptoms of fever, such as:
- Disinterest in activities
- Increased thirst
- General feeling of being unwell
- Flushed, sweaty skin
- Chills and shaking
Infants and young children may be unusually cranky or flushed due to a fever, so it is important to look for nonverbal clues that your child is feeling unwell. However, always check your child’s temperature to confirm that they have a fever, and are not cranky due to tiredness or being hungry. The most common complication of fever in children is dehydration, which can occur because children often do not feel like drinking or eating while suffering with a fever. However, it is important to encourage fluids, as well as chicken and beef broth for nourishment. Many kids like jello and pudding when they have a fever, which can also help replace lost fluids due to a fever.Types of Thermometers
At one time, there was only one kind of thermometer. However, today there are just as many types of thermometers as there are childhood illnesses. To be sure that you always get an accurate reading, follow the manufacturer’s directions for the best results.Glass Thermometers
For many decades, glass thermometers filled with mercury were the only way to check your child’s temperature. However, new concerns about the mercury found in glass thermometers have made this type of thermometer much less popular among parents. In fact, most parents prefer a newer, more reliable method for taking their child’s temperature.Digital Thermometers
According to many children’s organizations, digital thermometers are the quickest, easiest way to check your child’s temperature. This type of thermometer comes in many shapes and sizes, and can be purchased just about anywhere today. Digital thermometers are also very versatile, and can be used to measure oral, rectal and axillary temperatures. Most digital thermometers can also be used with disposable probe covers to reduce the risk of spreading infection to other family members. However, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, because digital thermometers often have to be programmed before use.Electronic Ear Thermometers
Electronic ear thermometers are popular with many parents today because they quickly measure the tympanic temperature of your child without much resistance, which can be especially helpful when dealing with squirming children. However, they are not as accurate as digital thermometers, and are often more expensive.Pacifier Thermometers
Pacifier thermometers are a relatively new kind of thermometer marketed to parents of infants 3 months of age and older. The idea is that because many infants like pacifiers, they will be more likely to let you take their temperature with a pacifier thermometer. However, this kind of thermometer is less reliable and often takes longer to acquire a temperature reading compared to other thermometers.
Although most childhood fevers are harmless, there are times when a fever is a sign of something more serious.Infant Care
According to The Nemours Foundation, children with a temperature of less than 102 degrees Fahrenheit oftentimes do not need medication unless they are uncomfortable. However, the popular foundation does recommend that infants 3 months of age and younger with a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher be treated by a doctor or emergency personnel. This is because infants are especially at risk for serious complications and even death due to untreated high fevers.High Temperatures
If your child is between the ages of 3 months and 3 years with a fever of 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, call your pediatrician to see if they want to see your child. Your pediatrician may suggest at-home treatment, but it is better to be safe when dealing with a high fever. Some children experience fever seizures when their temperature rises above 102 degrees Fahrenheit. However, these seizures often pass without any long-lasting effects, and are considered quite normal by most pediatricians.Health Changes
Pay attention to what is normal behavior for your child because a change in mood or behavior may signal a change in health due to a fever. Changes in bathroom habits, such as a decrease in the amount of urine produced or dark-colored urine are signs of dehydration that should be treated immediately. However, if your child is still active, eating normally and has a normal skin color, chances are your child is recovering.
All parents know that seeing your child suffer with a fever can be as distressing for the parent as the child. However, most fevers are a normal part of childhood, and pass as quickly as they began. In most cases, a fever is a sign that your child’s immune system is functioning properly. However, most parents want to help their child be as comfortable as possible during a fever. Some ways to alleviate your child’s discomfort include:
- Give your child a sponge bath with lukewarm water to help bring a fever down.
- Dress your child in lightweight clothing and cover with a light blanket. Avoid over-bundling, which can cause a rise in temperature and increased discomfort.
- Offer plenty of fluids to help prevent dehydration.
- Give your child an electrolyte solution for fluid replacement.
In some cases, your child’s pediatrician may recommend a fever-reducing medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat your child’s fever. Not only will these products reduce your child’s fever, but they will also help relieve pain and discomfort.
Talk to your doctor about dosage instructions, or follow the instructions on the medicine label. However, never give aspirin to your child or teen unless directed to do so by a physician because aspirin can cause a fatal condition known as Reye’s syndrome in children and adolescents. If your child’s fever is accompanied by severe vomiting or diarrhea, call your pediatrician or seek medical attention for advice.