What to Do If Your Child Has a Fever

Mother taking care of sick 6 year old child
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Parents often worry when their child get a fever. There is even a term to describe how parents sometimes get over-concerned or overreact to fever—fever phobia.

According to Barton Schmitt, MD, one of the big names in pediatrics and clinical professor at The Children's Hospital in Denver, "The great concern of parents about fever is not justified."

Although parents often do get worried when their child gets a fever, it is important to remember that fever is just a symptom, like a cough, runny nose, or a sore throat. And most importantly, the degree of fever doesn't tell you how sick your child is.


Fever is simply a rise in your child's body temperature above normal levels. It occurs in response to certain fever-inducing substances called pyrogens.

These pyrogens can either be substances that are already inside your body and are released by cells in response to infections, or can be the germs that are causing the infection themselves, including bacteria, viruses, and toxins they produce.

In response to the pyrogens, many chemicals inside your child's body work to raise the body's thermostat to a new, higher temperature.

Why do kids get fevers?

Fever is thought to help interfere with the growth of some infections and help boost the body's immune system response. The American Academy of Pediatrics describes fever as "a positive sign that the body is fighting infection."

What Causes Fever?

Most parents think 'infection' when their child has a fever, but it is important to keep in mind that many other conditions can cause a fever, especially when your child has a prolonged fever or a fever without any other symptoms of an infection.

Common and some uncommon conditions that cause fever can include:

Even though this is a long list of possible causes of fever, keep in mind that simple viral infections will still be the most common cause for most of your child's fevers.

Fever Treatments

If fever is a good thing, does that mean that you shouldn't treat it?

That often depends on how your child is feeling when he has a fever. Since a fever can make your child feel irritable and uncomfortable, it can be a good idea to give your child a fever reducer if the fever is leading to other symptoms. On the other hand, if the fever isn't bothering your child, he may not need a fever reducer at all.

When considering fever treatments for your child, you should also call your pediatrician if your child seems sick (trouble breathing, lethargic, severe headache) and when:

  • An infant under two to three months old has a temp at or above 100.4 F (38.1 degrees Celsius)
  • An infant that is three to six months old has a temp at or above 101 F (38.3 degrees Celsius)
  • An infant 6 to 12 months old has a temp at or above 103 F (39.4 degrees Celsius)
  • A child over 12 months old has a temp at or above 103 F (39.4 degrees Celsius) and the fever does not improve with home remedies and a fever reducer

Common fever reducers that you can give to children include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil), although ibuprofen is usually only given to infants over six months of age. Remember that aspirin isn't usually given to children and teens because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.

Other home fever treatments might include giving your child extra fluids to drink, a lukewarm sponge bath, and dressing your child in less clothing.


Since there are now so many methods of taking a child's temperature, if you are looking for a thermometer, your best bet is finding out if your pediatrician has a preferred method for you to take your child's temperature. Although one method is not necessarily better than another, it may be that your pediatrician really prefers that you use an ear thermometer, temporal thermometer, or a mercury free oral thermometer.

Although temporal thermometers, which you simply scan across your child's forehead, and ear thermometers are becoming popular among parents because they are fast and easy to use, they can be expensive. More simple, mercury-free, digital thermometers are much less expensive but do take longer to get a reading, which can be a problem if you have a fussy child who won't stay still for 1 to 3 minutes.

A Word From Verywell

Don't panic when your child has a fever. Unless your child has heat stroke, it is unlikely that your child's temperature will get high enough to be dangerous.

Just because you shouldn't panic, though, doesn't mean that you should ignore your child's fever either. Your child could be seriously ill, like with meningitis, when he has a fever. The key point is that a serious illness should usually have other symptoms besides fever to alert you to their serious nature. For example, in addition to fever, children with meningitis may have a severe headache, stiff neck, and vomiting.

Whether or not your child has a fever, his body temperature will usually be about a degree higher in the late afternoon and early evening. Febrile seizures are one complication of a rapidly rising fever in younger children, but even these seizures aren't thought to be harmful, and most kids outgrow them as they get older.

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Article Sources
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. Your Baby's First Year. Bantam; 2004.
  • Behrman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 17th ed. Elsvier Health Sciences; 2003.
  • Long: Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 2nd ed. Saunders; 2012.
  • Schmitt B.D.: Fever Phobia. Misconceptions of Parents About Fever. Am J Dis Child 134. 176-181.1980.