Fever Fighters: How Parents Should Handle Sick Children

The first piece of advice from UnityPoint Health® pediatrics is, don’t panic! Doctors say there is no degree of fever that will hurt your baby or child. Fever is a sign that the body is fighting off infection. The infection may harm the body, but the fever is actually fighting the infection.

“Let’s think about the food we eat,” said Dinah Conti, M.D., UnityPoint Health. “When we want to kill the germs in our food, we cook it. The same thing happens in the human body; when the body wants to kill germs that are harmful, it heats them up. The fever is just a signal, not the cause of harm.”

What about the numbers?

  • If the child is less than three months of age, parents/caregivers should call the pediatrician right away if the baby’s temperature is taken rectally and reads 100.5 F or more.
  • If the child is three months or older, call the pediatrician anytime you are concerned the child is ill and needs medical attention. It doesn’t matter how high the fever is, whether it’s 100.5 or 103. If you think your child is ill, then give your pediatrician a call.

How should I take my child’s temperature?

Experts recommend you always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. There are three types recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

  • Digital multiuse thermometers are used rectally from birth to three years of age. From four to five years and older, it can be used orally. It can also be used under the arm, but this is the least reliable technique. Experts say to make sure you use different thermometers on different parts of the body. If you have multiple, it’s a good idea to label them.
  • Temporal artery thermometers read the heat waves coming from the temporal artery, on the side of your head. The AAP suggests using it for children three months and older.
  • Tympanic thermometers are used in the ear. The AAP suggests using it on children six months or older.

How can I make my child feel better?

There is no “danger zone” when it comes to fever. Whether the temperature is 100 or 105, if your child is uncomfortable then you should try to help. You can do this in several ways, but giving your child cool liquids to drink is a great way to start.

“When we’re hot, we need to sweat to cool off. If your child is not drinking enough fluids, then she/he can’t sweat, and you’ll have trouble getting the temperature down to the normal range.”

Dr. Conti’s second suggestion is to try medication. Children two months of age and older can have Tylenol, and those six months and older can have ibuprofen. However, if you go this route, make sure you follow the directions on the label for your child’s weight.

A step-by-step guide if your child is sick after hours

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. If your baby is younger than three months old and has a fever, call the after-hours line to speak with a nurse or physician about what to do next.
  3. If your child is three months old or older, try make them comfortable. If he is sleeping, let him sleep; if she is thirsty, give her something to drink. You can also try Tylenol or ibuprofen, according to the medication labels.
  4. If you can keep your child comfortable overnight, call your pediatrician in the morning for advice or an appointment.
  5. If your child is inconsolable despite all the steps above, or you become frustrated, call your pediatrician or go to the Emergency Department.

“Your child will feel better once the illness is gone. Until then, you may spend most of the day and night holding your child, comforting your child, watching him/her sleep but restlessly. You’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. You’re loving your child and comforting your child while his/her body fights this illness. It’s hard when you’re baby is sick. We hurt when our children hurt,” Dr. Conti said.

If you have other fever-related questions or other health concerns related to your child, contact your UnityPoint Health pediatrician or primary care provider.