My 8-month-old daughter has been running a fever (as high as 102 F) for the past three days and seems to be getting a new tooth. When should I become concerned that this is something else and call her doctor?
I'm glad you asked this question, as fevers of this degree are very commonly (but mistakenly) attributed to teething. When you're talking about fevers in the range of 102 degrees F and above, no research has been able to demonstrate that teething could be the cause, and it's therefore important to consider other causes of the fever. The fact of the matter is that infants (and toddlers) get a lot of teeth, and they get a lot of colds and fevers, and the two are sure to overlap at times without one causing the other.
Now that we've established that a new tooth is not likely to blame for an 102 F fever, the next question is, "What is to blame?" The most common—and therefore most likely cause of fever in young children—is a viral infection. Whenever children are sick or have a fever, it's quite helpful to take into account how they are acting and behaving to determine whether or not they have anything more than a minor illness. Unlike an 8-week-old who still doesn't have a fully developed immune system, an otherwise healthy 8-month-old is much better equipped to handle common colds and fevers. The bottom line is that fever, in and of itself, is much less concerning at this age and by itself, does not inherently mean a child is seriously sick. In fact, fever actually helps the body fight off infection. That said, it's always a good idea to touch base with the doctor for:
- Children between 3 months and 3 years with temperatures above 102 F
- Fever persisting more than four to five days
- A child who looks or seems "concerningly" sick, lethargic, irritable, or just doesn't seem right (with or without a fever!)
- Refusal to drink and/or signs of dehydration (dry mouth, less urine, etc.)