Fever Phobia: When To Worry About Your Child’s Temperature

Eugenie Charles, MD

Eugenie Charles, MD

Board-certified pediatric emergency physician Eugenie Charles, MD, and Erin Rovelli, RN, serve patients at the Children’s Emergency Room at Inova Loudoun Hospital – Loudoun County’s only emergency facility solely dedicated to caring for children and adolescents.

Fevers are practically a universal rite of childhood. Fortunately, fever is not as dangerous as many parents fear. As a parent, the trick is to figure out whether a high temperature is helpful or harmful.

So when should you worry? Read on for the answers to our most commonly asked questions about fevers.

What is a fever?

Fever is not an illness itself, but a sign that the body is fighting an illness or infection. Fevers can be beneficial, stimulating the body’s immune defenses to destroy the cause of the infection.

Fevers occur in response to a variety of conditions, including:

  • Infections
  • Certain medications
  • Heat stroke
  • Blood transfusion
  • Brain disorders
  • Some kinds of cancer
  • Some autoimmune diseases

shutterstock_136406807What’s the best way to take my child’s temperature?

While many parents find armpit, ear and forehead temperatures easiest to measure, rectal temperatures are the most accurate. For children 4 and older, oral temperature readings are also highly reliable.

The following temperature readings are considered a fever:

  • Rectal temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius)
  • Oral temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius)
  • Armpit temperature above 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37.2 degrees Celsius)
  • Ear temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius)
  • Forehead temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius)

When should I call the doctor?

Don’t hesitate to call your doctor or head to the nearest Emergency Room if:

  • Your child is under 2 months of age
  • Your child hasn’t received vaccinations, and the fever has no obvious cause
  • The fever is associated with other concerning symptoms, including rash, seizures, repeated vomiting or prolonged abnormal behavior.

When your child has a fever, the number on the thermometer is less important than how sick your child appears. If you’re concerned, call your healthcare provider. He or she can recommend specific fever-reducing methods based on factors including:

  • Your child’s age, overall health and medical history
  • Your child’s tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • How long the illness is expected to last
  • Your impression and your provider’s impression of your child’s illness

How do I treat a fever?

Treating your child’s fever won’t help the body get rid of the infection any faster. Still, taking action can help your child feel better. To bring down a fever, try these strategies:

  • For children less than 6 months of age, Tylenol is the only recommended fever reducer. DO NOT give your child aspirin, as it has been linked to a serious, potentially fatal disease called Reye syndrome.
  • Dress your child in lightweight clothing. Excess clothing will trap body heat and cause the temperature to rise.
  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
  • Give your child lukewarm baths. Do not allow your child to shiver from cold water, as this can raise the body temperature. NEVER leave your child unattended in the bathtub and DO NOT use alcohol baths.

What Is febrile seizure?

Children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years can develop seizures from fever called febrile seizures. These seizures generally occur in otherwise healthy children, and most kids outgrow them. There is no evidence that treating the fever will reduce the risk of having a febrile seizure.

When can my child go back to school after a fever?

If your child has been fever-free for 24 hours without medication, it’s usually safe to return to school. However, your child may still need to stay home if they are continuing to experience other symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting or a persistent cough. At the end of the day, what your child needs most is TLC (tender loving care) from a calm, compassionate caregiver.

Pediatric emergency care in Northern Virginia

Loudoun County

When your child is ill or injured, consider the Inova Loudoun Hospital Children’s Emergency Room – a kid-friendly ER open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Arlington/Falls Church

Inova Cares Clinic for Children: Comprehensive pediatric medical services for children of low-income families

Pediatric-focused urgent and emergency care in Northern Virginia

All Inova urgent care centers and ERs can provide expert care for both adults and children. However, we also have a number of pediatric-specific UCC and ER locations (click here to see all)

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