How to treat a child’s fever at home
By Kristy Bleizeffer Aug 2, 2018
Fever is a body’s natural response to an infection or illness, and not all fevers are serious. But they can make children feel downright crummy.
Here, certified physician assistant Tony Patik explains how to treat a child’s fever at home and when you should seek medical advice.
What is a fever?
A fever is a rise in body temperature, generally defined as greater than 100.4 F (38 C) rectally.
Are all fevers bad?
Not all fevers are bad or require a trip to a medical office. Infection is the most likely cause of a fever (colds, flu, croup, stomach bugs) but many infections are viral infections and antibiotics are not required to treat. Children can also sometimes get fevers from vaccines.
What is the best way to measure a child’s fever?
The best and most accurate way to measure a child’s fever is with a rectal thermometer. Armpit, ear and forehead scanners are very technique dependent and may not provide accurate readings consistently.
An oral thermometer done correctly is also a reasonably accurate method. To correctly measure an oral temperature,
- Wait at least 30 minutes after the child has had anything hot or cold to drink.
- Wash the thermometer in soap and cool water, making sure to rinse it thoroughly.
- Place the thermometer under the tongue at the back of the mouth and instruct the child to hold the thermometer in place with their lips around the thermometer (not the teeth).
- Keep the thermometer in place for about 3 minutes for a glass thermometer or until the indicator alerts you it is done on a digital thermometer (usually about 1 minute or less).
What medications should parents consider to control their child’s fever?
Parents can consider treating a fever with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin).
Infants younger than 3 months should always be seen by a medical provider if they have a rectal temperature over 100.4. Do not treat a fever in an infant under 3 months of age unless specifically instructed to do so by a medical provider.
What medications should parents avoid to control fever?
Children under 18 should NEVER BE GIVEN ASPIRIN as it is linked to a dangerous condition called Reye Syndrome.
What else can parents do to make their child feel better?
Parents can help their child feel better by offering lots of fluids to drink. (Call your medical provider if your child can’t or won’t drink fluids for more than a few hours.)
Parents can also encourage the child to rest as much as he or she wants, though it is not necessary to force the child to rest or sleep if they are otherwise feeling OK. Children may go back to school or usual activities after they have had a normal temperature for 24 hours.
Do you recommend cold baths to lower fever?
Sponge baths or cool baths are not usually necessary. Parents should NEVER use alcohol directly on the skin or in the bath to lower a fever.
When should parents call their doctor or seek medical advice?
Seek medical advice if:
- A child of any age has a fever of 104 degrees or higher (103 or higher if doing an armpit reading).
- Fever is accompanied by a seizure.
- Fever keeps coming back, even if they only last for a few hours.
- Child has ongoing medical issues such as heart disease, cancer, lupus or sickle cell anemia.
- Fever is accompanied by a new skin rash.
- Any child under 3 months has a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees.(DO NOT treat with acetaminophen or ibuprofen unless directed to do so by a medical provider.)
- A child between 3 months and 3 years has a rectal temperature of 100.4 for more than three days. Seek medical care immediately if the child seems sick, is fussy or clingy, or will not take fluids.
- A child between 3 months and 3 years has a rectal temperature of 102 or higher.
Toni Patik is a certified physician assistant at Sage Primary Care. She earned her physician assistant degree from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. She worked in family practice in Gillette for two years before returning to Casper in 2001 to join the local Veterans Administration clinic, where she practiced for 10 years. She then practiced for five years at Rocky Mountain Oncology followed by a brief time as a hospitalist physician assistant in Rock Springs.
She is welcoming patients of all ages at Sage Primary Care. Schedule an appointment at (307) 265-8300 or WyomingMedicalCenter.org/Sage.