Kids’ Fevers: When to Worry, When to Relax
How high is too high for your kid’s fever? Our expert explains when a fever is serious.
Fevers can be a very scary thing for parents, especially for first-time moms and dads. (How high is too high? Should I call the doctor immediately?)
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But every child will eventually experience a fever, no matter how careful you are, says pediatrician Tracy Lim, MD. And it’s important for parents to know what to do when this happens. That starts with taking your child’s temperature using any variety of thermometers available, from standard oral thermometers to the newer temporal artery scanners.
“You can use any of these devices, but a digital thermometer is generally all you need,” she says.
It’s most accurate to use a rectal thermometer for infants and young children. “If you feel uneasy doing this, use whichever device makes you most comfortable,” Dr. Lim says. “In older children, an oral temperature is most accurate, if the child is able to tolerate it.”
So what is a fever? Fever is defined as a temperature over 100.4 F (38.0 C). Normal body temperature is 98.6 F (37 C). Everyone’s body temperature varies throughout the day and can differ by age, activity level and other factors.
Don’t be alarmed if your child’s temperature varies. The magic number for fever is 100.4 F.
When should you not worry about your child’s fever? Dr. Lim says doctors tend not to worry about:
Now for the important question: When should you be worried about a fever? Call a doctor when:
Seizures are a very scary side effect of fevers in some children, Dr. Lim notes. “Febrile seizures” occur in 2 to 4% of all children under age 5. Not all seizures cause jerking movements in the body. Some seizures look like “passing out.” If your child develops a seizure:
If the seizure lasts less than five minutes, call your physician or seek immediate medical attention.
If your child has persistent or multiple episodes of fever and a pediatrician cannot figure out what is causing them, they may refer your child to a specialist, Dr. Lim says. A pediatric infectious disease expert or pediatric rheumatologist may be able to get to the bottom of the issue.