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Fever: What is it Good For? by Judy Black, MD

May 24th, 2018 | Blog

  Fever: What is it Good For?

Any time a child has a fever, parents get concerned, but what is a fever, and why do kids get them? First of all, a fever is not an illness, but is a sign of an illness. Usually a fever is part of the body’s immune response. When an infection starts, the body reacts by raising its temperature.

This tells the immune system to get going and start fighting off an infection. In this way the fever is a part of a healthy immune system. The down side to the fever, of course, is discomfort on the part of the child, and making parents worry!

It’s important for parents to know how to take a temperature properly. Although feeling the temperature of your child’s forehead is convenient, it’s best to take a temperature using a digital thermometer. In an infant under 3 months, a rectal temperature is best. To do this, clean the end of the thermometer with soap and water and put a small amount of Vaseline on the end of it. Put it into his bottom about ½-1 in and hold it there for 1 minute, until the thermometer “beeps”. Once your child is over 3 months of age, you can use temporal artery thermometer.

This type of thermometer is held against the side of the forehead for a few seconds and can be a very accurate way to take the temperature when your child is too young to cooperate with an oral thermometer. After 4-5 yrs., an oral (mouth) thermometer can be used. The thermometer should be cleaned with soap and water and put underneath the tongue for about a minute until the thermometer is done reading and “beeps”. Tympanic (in the ear) temperatures and underarm temperatures are not always accurate readings, so rectal, oral, or temporal artery temperatures are best.

So, how high of a temperature is considered a fever? A body temperature over 100.4 is considered a fever. In infants under 2 months of age, this temperature is considered an emergency and you should contact your child’s doctor immediately if your baby has a fever. You should not give Tylenol before talking to your baby’s doctor. After 2 months of age, a temperature over 100.4 is still considered a fever, but it is not an emergency. Watch your child for other signs of illness. Make sure your child is drinking enough fluids to stay hydrated. You can measure this by seeing how often your child urinates. If they are urinating about every 4 hours, they are getting enough fluid. Tylenol can be used to bring the fever down, but only as a way to keep your child comfortable. If your child is drinking and playing well, even though they have a fever, you do not need to treat the fever. Tylenol can be used in infants. Ibuprofen can be used after your child is 6 months of age. Contact your child’s doctor for the right dose of medicine if your child is under 2 years. Over the age of 2 years, follow the instructions on the box, using your child’s weight to find the correct dose.

The bottom line is that fever is not the enemy, and is actually a healthy part of the immune system. It is a method the body uses to help it fight infections. You may treat a fever to keep your child more comfortable, but not every fever needs medicine. Call your doctor immediately if your baby is less than 2 months and has a rectal temperature >100.4. If your child is older than 2 months, and is uncomfortable and fussy, even when the fever is down, has a fever lasting more than 3 days, or has a fever that repeatedly goes above 102.8, call your doctor for advice as your child may need to be seen by their doctor. Here at Grants Pass Clinic we always have staff available to answer your questions about your child’s fever and illness.