Fevers are a normal part of childhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) even notes most of them are "harmless" tools the body uses to fight infection.
So how do you know when the temperature is spiking too high and how to help your toddler?
First up: Take their temperature.
If your child is younger than 3, the AAP says a rectal thermometer is going to give you the most accurate reading. The underarm reading is second best, they say, and it can be used on kids ages 3 months and up. The mouth reading should be saved for kids at least 4 or 5.
According to the AAP, a rectal reading of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or less, or an oral reading of 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37.2 degrees Celsius) or less is considered normal.
Anything higher indicates a fever, so The Stir asked Dr. Kate Cronan, Division of Emergency Medicine at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, what to do next.
When is fever dangerous?
Fever itself is not dangerous. However, it often makes a child feel very uncomfortable and can signal that your child has an infection.
It is especially concerning if a young baby -- less than 3 months -- has a fever, because the chance of an infection is higher.
There is no magic number to be concerned about, though often a young child appears more uncomfortable as the fever goes up.
Some young children may have a seizure when they have a fever. This can happen in certain children no matter what the height of the fever is.
Is fever always bad? Why (or why not)?
No. Fever in and of itself doesn't always mean something bad. A fever won't hurt your child. It's a symptom that raises concern about an infection -- the most common infections are caused by viruses.
What can we do at home to keep the fever down?
- Use cool wet cloths and sponge your child's skin.
- Place your child in a lukewarm bath to bring the fever down.
- Use over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to bring the fever down (if you child has a fever and doesn't seem uncomfortable, you don't have to bring the fever down -- many children are bothered by the fever, and that's why we treat it).
- Do NOT use rubbing alcohol or any other substance on the skin.
When should we go to the hospital with our kids?
Call your doctor if your child has a fever along with other symptoms that concern you:
- Looking tired or sick
- A skin rash
- Being fussy
- Not able to keep fluids down
If you have a young infant with a fever, your doctor will likely recommend some testing in the hospital.
You should go to the hospital if your child has a fever along with symptoms such as:
- Acting very fussy and cannot be consoled
- Looking dehydrated
- Having labored breathing
- Having a seizure
What would be done at the hospital?
Often an over-the-counter medication will be given to bring the fever down, and if necessary blood tests and/or urine tests may be done.
If indicated, other tests such as x-rays may be done to look for an infection. Your child will receive antibiotics if a bacterial infection is suspected.
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