More than almost any other common condition, fever causes parents to worry. They look at their red-cheeked child and wonder if the fever itself is harmful or if it's a sign of a more serious illness. Indeed, the majority of the calls to our practice are related to fevers in children.
In most cases, fever is not serious and, if anything, is a good sign the child's body is working to fight an illness. One common myth is that the higher the fever, the worse the illness. While extremely high fevers (over 104 degrees F) call for action, usually there is not much difference between a 100-degree fever and a 102-degree fever. Since many types of bacteria and viruses don't like hot temperatures, fever is nature's way of fending off disease.
Should I call the doctor?
Any infant age three months or younger with a fever should immediately be seen by the doctor. After that, the data is less absolute. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents call the pediatrician within 24 hours for fever in children one year old or less. You should also call if other symptoms—such as neck pain, persistent vomiting, or diarrhea—are present.
When should we give our child fever-reducing medicine?
When using fever-reducing medications, remember that your goal should not be a certain temperature or number, but your child's comfort level. Fever-reducing medications such as acetaminophen often only reduce a child's fever by about one degree, which can be just enough to allow your child to sleep comfortably. If you feel that you cannot make your child comfortable with adequate medication dosing, it is probably time to call your child's provider.
If your child is sleeping, wait until she wakes up to give her the medicine. That's also a good time to offer a drink of clear liquid such as water to make sure the child stays well hydrated.