It’s common for children to have fevers frequently, as they can occur due to various reasons such as teething and fighting infections. However, it’s important to know when to let the fevers run their course as they help in developing and enhancing the child’s immune system, and when to seek medical attention or give them medication. Additionally, it’s also essential to understand what temperature is considered as a fever.
To gain insight into pediatric care, we consulted with Emily Wisniewski, a licensed pediatrician who administers complete medical attention to children from infancy to adolescence at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Additionally, we spoke with Shelby House, an outpatient nurse from Compass Health Network, who shared her firsthand experience while taking care of young patients.
What Is a Fever?
The body’s natural response to combat an infection is through a fever. Usually, a normal body temperature is about 98.6° Fahrenheit, but it may differ. Healthcare professionals categorize a body temperature above 100.4° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius) as a fever.
What Causes Fevers in Infants and Children?
Most infants and children will experience fevers often during their childhood. Dr. Wisniewski advises these causes can fall into one of two categories.
“Fevers can be caused by many different things,” says Dr. Wisniewski. “Most commonly, they are going to be infections—for example, from viruses and bacteria.” Common childhood illnesses caused by these infections can range from a cold to the flu. House also adds what she most often sees in her work, “Usually the infections we see stem from anywhere in the body, but common infections seen in childhood include infections of the respiratory system, ear infections, or urinary tract infections,”.
In case your baby is covered with too many clothes or your young child has excessive blankets or coverings in bed, it can cause overheating and increase their body temperature. While teething, they might experience mild and temporary fevers. However, it’s important to note that fevers can also be a symptom of severe but uncommon illnesses such as cancer or rheumatological disease.
What Are the Signs of Fever in Infants and Children?
The signs of fever in infants and children vary depending on your child’s age. These signs can include, but are not limited to:
- A high body temperature
- Non-stop, inconsolable crying in newborns and infants
- Your child is unusually lethargic and isn’t acting like themselves (like being excessively sleepy even after a full-nights sleep)
- Unexplained rash, headaches, body aches, stiffness, or other pain
- Excessive diarrhea or vomiting, or seizures
According to House, typical indications of a fever that cause most parents to take their child to a doctor, urgent care center, or hospital consist of a body temperature of 100° Fahrenheit or higher. Additionally, parents may seek medical attention if their child appears flushed, has a poor appetite or thirst, and displays heightened irritability.
How Do You Know If Your Child Has a Fever?
The recorded temperature of your child may vary based on the location of the thermometer. It is important to watch out for other signs such as heightened body temperature, reddened skin, reduced activity level, or an accelerated heartbeat.
Is 99 degrees a fever?
Body temperature can differ from one person to another, and the location where the temperature is taken can affect the reading. Therefore, if the temperature reading is above 99°F, it may be classified as a low-grade fever. However, it is noteworthy that medical professionals generally consider body temperatures over 100.4°F as a genuine fever.
Does the threshold for a fever change depend on how it is measured?
Definitely. There exist multiple methods to measure your child’s body temperature and the benchmarks differ based on the method used. It’s important to adhere to the age-based recommendations before selecting the method to take their temperature.
Armpit: If the reading is above 99° Fahrenheit it is considered a fever. This method of taking your child’s temperature is recommended for any age, but especially younger children.
Ear: A reading of 100.4° Fahrenheit or higher is considered a fever. Try this method with your child who is six months old or older.
Oral: If the reading is 100° Fahrenheit or higher using this method it is considered a fever and should be used for children four years old and up.
Rectal: This method of taking your child’s temperature is the most accurate. A reading of 100.4° Fahrenheit or higher is considered a fever. This is most commonly used for children three years old and younger.
Temporal (forehead): You can run this temperature reading over your child’s forehead if they’re four years old or older. A temperature of 100.4° Fahrenheit or more is considered a fever.
When to worry: What to know about “high” fevers in babies, infants, and children
As a parent, it can be concerning when your little ones are unwell, especially when they are too young to tell you what’s wrong. However, it’s important to understand when high fevers in babies, infants, and children should be cause for alarm. According to Dr. Wisniewski, if your baby is under two months old and has a fever, it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately. This is because fevers in this age group can indicate a serious infection, and the doctor may need to perform tests like blood, urine, spinal fluid, viral testing, or x-rays, and even hospitalize the baby. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t give medications to babies in this age group without consulting a doctor first.
What Is the Best Treatment for Fevers in Infants and Children?
The appropriate method of treatment varies depending on the age of the child. As previously stated, medical professionals should determine and provide treatment for infants under 2 months old. However, for older infants and children, the optimal approach is distinct.
According to Dr. Wisniewski, if your baby is between two to six months old and displaying normal behavior and drinking fluids without any trouble, there is no immediate need to rush them to a doctor. In this case, administering Tylenol (acetaminophen) can help in improving your little one’s comfort level. However, if the fever persists for the next two to three days, it is advisable to consult your pediatrician.
According to Dr. Wisniewski, for babies who are six months or older, parents can switch between various types of medications. They can choose either Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) for their child, but the same precautions should be taken. If there is no improvement in the child’s condition after a few days or if the child seems unwell, parents should consult a pediatrician. In addition to administering medication, it is important to ensure that the child gets adequate rest and stays hydrated to promote their recovery.