When (and When Not) to Fret Over a Child’s Fever

Thank you to Wolfson Children's Hospital for providing these helpful tips on how to manage your child's fever.

feverSeeing your child fussing, suffering from chills, or having an overall tough time with a fever can be heartbreaking for a parent. It’s easy for the panic to set in as you run through any and all options that could be causing your baby or big kid to be uncomfortable.

Fevers can be one of the most common reasons moms and dads take their children to seek medical care at one of the six Wolfson Children’s Hospital Emergency Centers, but Brian Gilligan, MD, pediatric emergency medicine physician with Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Emergency Resources Group, assures us that not every high temperature should warrant that kind of worry.

Fever Basics

A fever technically means a body temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, according to Dr. Gilligan. They are most often caused by viral or bacterial infections, so when a child is running a fever, the most pressing concern should be the infection itself, not the actual fever.

“Our goal with fever reduction is to make the child comfortable and to prevent excessive fluid loss and dehydration,” said Dr. Gilligan. “Fever is the body’s normal response when we are sick and it also helps with resolution of viral and bacterial illnesses. Occasionally in children, a rapid rise in body temperature can cause a seizure, known as a febrile seizure. While scary, these are quite harmless and generally do not cause any short- or long-term problems.”

When You Should Worry

Whether or not to seek medical care for a child’s fever depends primarily on age. Dr. Gilligan highlighted a few key points for parents to decide if they should take their little one to the nearest Wolfson Children’s Emergency Center or call/visit the pediatrician. These include:

  • Babies under 2 months old with a rectal temperature above 100.4 degrees should be taken to the nearest Children’s Emergency Center immediately.
  • Parents of otherwise healthy children older than 2 months old should call their child’s pediatrician’s office before going to the ER.
  • High-risk populations, such as kids with cancer or sickle cell disease, should come to the ER whenever their fever rises above 101 degrees.
  • Unimmunized children under 2–3 years old should be seen by their pediatrician any time they have a fever. Immunizations reduce a child’s risk of getting serious, preventable diseases, but if a child hasn’t been immunized, they could be at risk.
  • A fever that lasts more than two or three days should be assessed by a pediatrician or, if directed by the pediatrician, the closest Children’s Emergency Center.
  • If your child has a febrile seizure, please call 911 and get evaluated in the ER.

For most children, Dr. Gilligan said the child’s response to fever-reducing medication can be more telling than the fever itself.

“For example, if a child has a 104.5-degree fever, receives ibuprofen, and 40 minutes later is active and looking better, I am not too worried,” Dr. Gilligan said. “If the child has a 100.5-degree fever and still looks and acts sick after receiving ibuprofen, I am more concerned with this child. But parents should trust their gut and bring their child to the ER if they feel it’s a true emergency.”

Helpful Tips to Lower Temperatures

Dr. Gilligan recommends parents try decreasing their child’s fever by giving him or her the appropriate dose of fever-reducing medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil®) or acetaminophen (Tylenol®). Parents can also dress their child in loose clothing or give him or her a lukewarm bath.

“If your child’s not responding to fever medication, or if the fever is persisting for two or three days, call your child’s pediatrician or take him or her to the nearest Wolfson Children’s Emergency Center for evaluation,” said Dr. Gilligan.

When your child needs the expert care of pediatric emergency medicine physicians, Wolfson Children’s has six Emergency Centers throughout Northeast Florida. To find the nearest Wolfson Children’s Emergency Center, along with wait times, visit wolfsonchildrens.com/emergency.  

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