Fast facts about fever in children
- Fever is a body temperature of 38°C or higher60
- The severity of a fever is not always an indication of the seriousness of the illness60
- Fever is useful in fighting infection but can be uncomfortable and even dangerous in children with underlying illness60
- The most common cause of acute fever in infants and children is infection60
- Over-the-counter analgesics that contain paracetamol and/or ibuprofen may help to ease the fever60
Your child's temperature will naturally vary at different times of the day and according to their level of activity, even when something isn't wrong.60 Regardless of the circumstances, a child is considered to have a fever when their body temperature is 38°C or higher.60
A fever in a child is generally a response to an injury, infection or inflammation.60 The severity of the fever is not always an indication of the seriousness of the illness.60 Some minor illnesses cause a high fever and some serious illnesses only a mild fever.60 Other symptoms, e.g. difficulty breathing or confusion, are better indicators of the severity of the illness.60
What causes fever?
The most common cause of acute fever in infants and children is infection:60
- Respiratory infections, such as a cold or flu
- Gastroenteritis due to a virus
- Certain bacterial infections, e.g. middle ear infection, sinus infection, pneumonia and bladder infections
Is fever dangerous?
Fever is useful in fighting infection but it can be uncomfortable and even dangerous in children with underlying illness.60 An infant with a fever will become irritable and will not eat or sleep well.60 An older child will also be disinterested in playing or eating.60 Some children may have seizures when their fever rises or falls rapidly.60 It is very rare that a fever gets so high that it causes a child to become drowsy or unresponsive.60
Helping your child at home
Dress your child lightly to avoid overheating and cover them with a light blanket if necessary.52 You can help bring your child's body temperature down by giving them lots of fluid.52 Sponging your child down with lukewarm water can also relieve some of the discomfort but stop sponging if your child becomes cold.52
Should I treat the fever with medicine?
Although a fever does not always require medical treatment, certain analgesics can make your child feel better by lowering his/her temperature.60 Ask your doctor or pharmacist for an over-the-counter analgesic that contains paracetamol and/or ibuprofen to help ease the fever.60 Follow the dose recommendation for your child's age.
When to contact a doctor
You need to take your child to a doctor if they have a fever and they:60
- Are under the age of 2 months
- Are lethargic
- Appear ill
- Are struggling to breathe
- Are bleeding in the skin (indicated by small reddish-purple spots under the skin)
- Are suffering from a headache, stiff neck or confusion
- Are still feverish after 5 days