The 411 on Fevers in Children

The 411 on Fevers

Fever in children can be extremely frightening, especially to new parents. A sign that the body is fighting an illness, fevers can be symptoms of both viral and bacterial infections. But when is it time to worry? Dr. Coppola, Family ER + Urgent Care Chief Medical Officer, breaks it down for us.

FER + UC: Good Morning, Dr. Coppola

Dr. Coppola:  Good Morning!

FER + UC: Let’s get right to the heat of the matter: fevers. I’ve got young kids and when they get fevers, sometimes it’s terrifying. Is it a virus? Is it a bacterial infection? Do I just give them Tylenol or should I take them to the doctor? Can you tell fellow parents how to identify when a fever is serious?

Dr. Coppola: That’s a great question and many young parents will appreciate the answer.  First, a baby’s normal temperature can range from 97 to 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit.  There is really no such thing as a “low grade fever.”  In my opinion, you either have a fever, or you don’t.  So, a temperature of 100.0 is not a fever.  A temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, on the other hand, is considered a fever. The best way to take a temperature in an infant is with a rectal thermometer, but we can check an older kid’s orally, or less accurately under the arms, on the eardrum, or on the forehead. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends using digital thermometers as they provide the most accurate results.

FER + UC: If my child has a temperature of 100.4 or higher, when do I need to seek medical treatment?

Dr. Coppola: Immediately, seek medical treatment if your child is younger than 3 months.  Fever in this age group is not normal, but less likely to signify a serious infection if your 2-month old is still eating, peeing, and acting normally. If your child is 3 months or older and is lethargic, not responsive, has problems breathing or eating, has a rash, shows signs of dehydration or has a seizure, they need to be seen by a medical professional.

FER + UC:  Fevers can cause young children to have seizures?

Dr. Coppola:  Oh yes!  And it can be scary too.  But, febrile seizures are most common in children ages 6 months to 5 years, though the risk peaks at age two. Febrile seizures are not uncommon and most last only a few minutes and are accompanied by a fever above 101°F.  It is not so much how high the fever is, but rather how rapidly it got there that is the culprit in febrile seizures.  While frightening, febrile seizures do not cause any long-term health issues. In fact, febrile seizures occur in up to 5% of children under the age of 5. It’s important to note that the majority of children will never experience one.

FER + UC:  What should parents do if a febrile seizure occurs?

Dr. Coppola:  Note the start time of the seizure and make sure the child is placed on a protected surface to avoid accidental injury. Make sure that the child’s mouth is free from food and objects to prevent choking. Lastly, seek immediate medical attention, especially if this is the first occurrence, if your child has difficulty recovering from it, or if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.

FER + UC:  Thanks, Dr. Coppola. This has been very helpful! Now we know when to jump into action with fevers.

Dr. Coppola: You’re welcome! Always happy to help.

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