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When Should I Worry? High Fevers in Children

high fevers in children

“Feed a Cold. Starve a Fever.”

That’s an old adage from days before the Internet. One that’s only somewhat reliable.

Here’s a far more helpful phrase: “Don’t Fear a Fever. Understand It.”

Let’s face it: no one enjoys having a fever. They make you feel flushed, clammy, and irritable. Many parents and guardians, however, are sent into a whirlwind of panic when faced with a child’s elevated temperature. What we need to understand is that a fever is a natural – and necessary – part of recovery from illness.

Although society has been conditioned over the years to believe otherwise, a fever – in most cases – is a good thing. It serves a purpose. It is “doing its job,” essentially boiling off the virus that is making your son or daughter so miserable.

And while high fevers in children yield a degree of unpleasantness, they also create a need to slow down, sleep, and recharge – all of which hasten the body’s natural healing process.

A fever is the body’s means of controlling an immune response. In children, that response is far more gregarious, due to an immune system that is not fully developed. For that reason, temperatures will tend to vary – and can occasionally spike.

What is “Too High?”

Well, it turns out there is no fever that is too high, the body can raise its temperature to 106 and still be ok. The higher the fever gets, the more uncomfortable it is and everyone deserves to be made more comfortable. So giving fever reducers for the discomfort is a great idea.

Additionally, if your child recently received a vaccination, a low-grade fever is nothing to worry about.

The impulse to “break” high fevers in children, while strong, is typically unwarranted. Instead, monitor your child to ensure they are eating, drinking, and urinating sufficiently, and allow them plenty of rest. (In other words, don’t constantly wake them to foist ibuprofen or a thermometer in their faces.)

Keep your child as comfortable as possible, and allow the fever – and the illness – to run its course.

What About Febrile Seizures?

It’s a valid question. For years, parents have feared seizures being triggered by high fevers in children. In actuality, febrile seizures are associated with a rapid change in temperature – rising or falling. (Genetics also play a role.)

A rapid decrease in temperature can result when using combined methods – say, medication and a cold bath – to bring a temperature down. For this reason, steps should be taken gradually to comfort your feverish child.

A high temperature typically signifies that your child has moved beyond the danger zone of a febrile seizure.

It is also important to keep in mind that febrile seizures, while frightening to experience, are rare, brief, and in most cases completely harmless.

So When Should I Worry?

The following should prompt a visit to your pediatric provider:

• A fever in a child less than 3 months old.
• A temperature greater than 104 degrees in older children.
• A fever in a child with an already compromised immune system or a child who is undergoing chemotherapy.
• A fever that has lasted for more than two days with no obvious, accompanying symptoms (cough, runny nose, aches and pains).
• A fever that has lasted for more than five days.

If none of the above applies, you can breathe a bit easier. Sit down, buckle in, and ride it out. In the meantime, help your child stay cool and comfortable using a combination of the following:

• Ice chips
• Popsicles
• Light, loose clothing
• Cool or tepid – but not cold – baths

With schools back in full swing, a number of viruses will begin to recirculate. Fevers will rise to do battle with them. Do not panic. Time, rest, and the comforts of home are often the best prescription. But when in doubt, give us a call. KinderMender is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

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