For some, when your child gets a fever, it can be a horrifying experience. Unfortunately, we’ve all been programmed to think that fevers are dangerous, and that they need to be treated and eliminated with medication. Yet what’s important to understand, is that when a child spikes a fever during the course of a common cold, flu or viral infection, it is in fact the body’s way of helping deal with what’s going on. A fever is a natural, safe process, is usually is best either left alone or supported, and should only be aggressively treated as a last resort. In order to best address common fevers in children, here’s how to safely manage a fever.
What Is A Fever?
First let’s define what a fever is. A fever is defined as a temporary increase in the body’s temperature, usually caused by a simple bacterial or viral infection. A fever is a normal and healthy response to such an infection and is a positive indication that the body and immune system are dealing with it properly.
Normal Body Temperature:
0-2 years of age: Oral: 35.5-37.5C, Rectal: 36.6-38C, Armpit: 34.7-37.3C, Ear: 36.4-38C
3-10 years of age: Oral: 35.5-37.5C, Rectal: 36.6-38C, Armpit: 35.9-36.7C, Ear: 36.1-37.8C
11-65 years of age: Oral: 36.4-37.6C, Rectal: 37.0-38.1C, Armpit: 35.2-36.9C, Ear: 35.9-37.6C
Over 65 years of age: Oral: 35.8-36.9C, Rectal: 36.2-37.3C, Armpit: 35.6-36.3C, Ear: 35.8-37.5C
Temperatures That Suggest A Fever:
Adults: Above 38.0C is a fever. Above 39.5C is a high fever. Above 41.0C is a very high fever
Children: Above 38.0C is a fever. Above 39.0C is a high fever. Above 40.0C is a very high fever
Infants: Above 38.0C is a fever and should closely monitored.
Is A Fever Dangerous?
Many illnesses thrive within a normal body temperature. A fever (even a high one) is a good indication that the immune system is functioning to help ward off the infection. In terms of being dangerous, a fever that is closely monitored and properly controlled is not at all a cause for concern. The primary reason for medicating a child due to fever is in a case where the temperature progressively reaches above 41.0C and/or the child with the fever is in obvious discomfort and pain. Otherwise, allowing a fever to run its course is extremely beneficial. According to fever management guidelines, the best approach is not to treat the fever (body temperature) itself, but rather treat the child who has the fever, based on symptoms, if or when necessary.
While febrile seizures, occurring in approximately 2–4% of children, are potentially frightening to parents, they are typically harmless and are not indicative of an underlying neurological condition.The degree of a fever does not predict the occurrence of a seizure, nor is there evidence to suggest that antipyretic therapy reduces the recurrence of such seizures. Parents and caregivers can be reassured that even in temperatures as high as 42.0C, brain damage has not been shown to be caused by the fever itself. Complications however, may result from the underlying illness, and thus fevers should not be ignored.
How To Treat A Fever
It is prudent to medicate and child or infant who has a fever under the following circumstances:
- A fever in an infant is progressively increasing higher than 38.0C and the infant is in obvious discomfort and pain (listlessness, not drinking and showing signs of dehydration, is excessively sleepy or unconsolable).
- A fever in a child is progressively increasing higher than 41.0C and the child is in obvious discomfort and pain (listlessness, not drinking and showing signs of dehydration, is excessively sleepy or unconsolable).
*Please be aware that, in most circumstances, the fever will return post medication (using antipyretics), typically within 4-6hrs. This is a good reminder that the body has created the fever in order to help control and fight off the infection. Medicating a fever using antipyretics is only necessary to provide comfort to the infant or child (if warranted as per above), but is not necessary for the purpose of suppressing or reducing the fever itself.
To Help Reduce And Control A Fever:
For infants or children outside of the above categories, the following fever support and treatment is beneficial and useful:
- Apply a mildly cool (not cold) wet facecloth to the forehead, inside wrists or nape of the neck of the infant or child.
- Tepid bath
- Remove clothing and heavy blankets and allow infant or child to cool to room temperature air (but do not allow for a chill)
- Cold wet socks – apply cold wet cotton socks (wring out) to child’s feet overnight. Cover in dry wool socks. This allows cooling to the body and the release of heat from the child.
- Rest and minimal movement, if possible.
- Antipyretic supportive herbs such as elderberry, elderflower, linden, catnip, or yarrow. (to healthfully support a fever).
The goal of the above is to manage a current spiked fever or reduce to a lower temperature. If the infant or child is drinking, hydrated, and peeing, then simply monitor the fever, as fever reducing medication is not required. Monitor fever temperature every 1-2 hours until the fever ‘breaks’ (becomes non feverish and into normal body temperature range). It is normal during a common infection for a fever to wax and wane for 3-4 days, and up to 1-2 weeks. During this time, the fever will usually ‘come and go’, which is completely normal. If a fever persists for more than 2 continual days without becoming non feverish, it’s prudent to bring your infant or child to see a doctor for a generalized workup.
Do not be afraid of a fever. Support and treat your infant or child as needed. The key to fever management is ensuring you treat and support your child with the fever, and not always the fever itself.