Child Fever: What You Need to Know & How To Treat

It’s late in the day.

Soccer practice is in an hour, then dance lessons after that.  Hubby has a late meeting. The dinning room table is covered with laundry and dinner will not make itself, no matter how much you will it to.

The last thing that you have time for is a sick kid, but that is when it happens. You reach down to pick up the whining child that you have been stumbling over for the last hour and, as you take them in your arms, the heat of their body almost causes you to drop them.

A fever.

You don’t even need a thermometer to tell you that this fever is high. One kiss on the forehead that burns your lips is all you need.

child with fever

So now what?

A fever itself is not in fact an illness. It is how the body fights off an illness.  If the child can tolerate the fever and is not too uncomfortable sometimes it is best not to treat the fever. For example, if a child is sleeping comfortably, then there really is no need to wake them to give them medicine to bring the fever down.

But usually when our kids have a fever, they are uncomfortable. Our first instinct is to get their temperature back to normal range so that their temperament will once again be happy, and not the whinny sad mess that is a sick kid.

When a child has a fever, it can come in a range of temperatures, all the way from low grade 101F to a maximum of 106.5F. (This just just for children, the adult range is different.) Is is not uncommon for a child to have a fever of 102-103F.

We have established its a fever, but when should you worry and seek medical attention immediately?

When to seek medical attention for a fever

  1. Your child is under 3 months of age and has a temperature of 101 or higher.
  2. Your child is acts confused or delirious.
  3. Your child has a stiff neck.
  4. Your child is still irritable and uncomfortable after treatment with Tylenol and Motrin.
  5. Your child seems dehydrated (not urinating at least every 6-8 hours, dry tongue, no tears).
  6. Your child has severe belly pain.
  7. Your child has difficulty breathing, grunting or moaning with each breath.
  8. The fever is greater than 106F.
  9. Your child as a febrile seizure for the first time.
  10. Your child has any underlying health risk for which a fever would not be a good thing.

Most fevers can be treated at home and will be gone in couple of days. But, if it persists for more than two days and is associated with ear pain, throat pain or burning/pain with urination, it is best to go and see the doctor.

What is the best way to treat a fever at home?

  1. Get your child to drink plenty of fluids. Offer small amounts more frequently and, if they won’t drink, try a popicle or Jell-O cubes for older children.
  2. Keep the room cool if possible,. Don’t over dress a child to try and ‘sweat the fever out’. A good rule of thumb is to dress them as you would be dressed. It is alright to give a feverish child a cool bath, but make sure it is not too cold as that induces chills and shivering. A luke-warm bath will feel good to a child.
  3. Medication. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and/or Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) are the best medications to treat a fever. (Never give a child aspirin.) They are most effective for high fevers (greater than 102F in children) when used in combination. Alternate Tylenol and Motrin every three to four hours. For example, give a dose of Tylenol at 3pm, a dose of Motrin at 6pm, followed by a a dose of Tylenol at 9pm and so on. In doing this, the fever should be down, if not gone, in a few hours.*

A fever can be a scary thing, but it really doesn’t have to be.

In general, a fever will make a child feel uncomfortable, but will not harm them and is part of the body’s natural defense against illness. Most fevers that are associated with a cold or flu will be gone in 24-48 hours. If the child can tolerate it, don’t treat it, but, if you need to, use cool compresses and medication. If the fever persists longer than 48 hour, the child is not responding to treatment, or you feel uncomfortable, a call to your doctor is always best.

* It is best to discuss giving medications to your child with your family physician.

More from Jen in our Ask the Expert series:

Around these parts, Jen is our go-to SITStahs with the answers to your health questions. To ask a question of your own, be sure to visit her in The SITS Girls discussion forum here.

About Jen

Jen Mitchell is a registered nurse with over 10 years of experience. She works in Critical Care Medicine with adult patients and wants to help you to understand your body and, in turn, how to take better care of it. Buried with Children Blog | Twitter | Facebook
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  1. says

    I’m so glad that you posted on this, especially with cold and flu season coming up. So many people treat fever as the illness, when it’s the body’s natural defense mechanism. We do not treat our children’s fevers unless they are uncomfortable, but usually when they have fevers they sleep all of the time, so that is not a factor. They tend to run high fevers when they are sick… up to 104.5 is not uncommon. I have learned from experience that children’s temperatures come back down to normal much more quickly when the fever is not artificially reduced with meds. Meds will bring the temp down, but it always pops back up and can do that over and over again when we don’t let the body do what it is made to do.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. says

    Hear, Hear! As an ER nurse, might I add that
    a) you do not have to rush your child to the ER with a fever, unless they are an infant. (see Jen’s rule above) Of course, if they have a febrile seizure, by all means, take them in.
    b) Please know the dosing guidelines — ask your doctor, or look it up here.
    Instead of sending moms home with a can of formula, THIS should be included in any ‘take home bag’ from the hospital.
    c) If you take your child to the ER – please treat their fever at home — and please know what you gave them. Telling me you gave them “Walmart fever reducer” doesn’t help me. I have no idea if you gave them Tylenol/Acetaminophen or Motrin/Ibuprofen.
    d) Infants cannot receive Motrin/Ibuprofen until over 6 months old.

    Great article, Jen!

  3. says

    Popsicles! I’ve found that’s a good way to get fluids into my kids and to cool their core temp at the same time.

    I’m sure all doctors give different instructions, but mine has also told me that if she has a temp of 105 that I can’t get down within an hour I need to take her to the ER. We had this happen one time and she ended up in the hospital for two days. That’s the only reason I know.

  4. says

    Thank you for the great advice!!! My rule is that if my child’s fever is around 100 – 101, I just try to keep her comfortable and let her body fight whatever it is. When other symptoms start showing up we call the doctor and usually she is just fighting a cold.

  5. says

    I’m glad I have a good pediatrician who advised us on the ways to bring down the temperature if our child has fever. As Chinese, old folks especially will tell you to cover the child up to sweat it out, avoid eating rice etc etc. We do not practice any of that, what we do is keep the room cool, sponge bath our child and monitor their temperature regularly. Medicine will be given if it exceeds certain level of temperature (as advised by our doc) as we do not want to rely on medicines too much (unless its absolutely necessary)