Fever…what do I do?
This week in my groups we have been talking a lot about illness and children. Fever seems to strike fear in every parent. I too hated to walk in to one of my kid’s rooms and put my cheek to theirs and feel that hot little face. I always had to “talk myself down” when that fever creeped up to the 103 or more mark.
The truth is…fever in itself is not bad. It is only a symptom of an illness. A very smart pediatrician once told me, “Look at the child, it is how sick your child acts…not how high the temperature is that is most important.” Most fevers in children are caused by viral illnesses, some by bacterial infections. Teething does not cause fever, we tend to blame teething for all kinds of symptoms!
Most viral illness will last about 3 full days. A common fear of parents is “brain damage” from a high fever. This would happen with a temperature around 107, and our wonderful bodies have a thermostat that keeps untreated fevers below that temp. Another big fear is febrile seizures. This type of seizure is scary, but generally harmless and only about 4% of children have them. So, probably not worth your worry time!
Taking care of fevers
- Treat all fevers by encouraging your child to drink more. Popsicles, shaved ice and juice, or any favorite drink works. If you are nursing, nurse more frequently.
- Dress your child lightly. Most body heat is lost through the skin, so don’t bundle your little one up, it will cause a higher temperature.
- If your child has a temperature above 101 or feels uncomfortable, then treat with a fever reducer like acetaminophen. All name brands and store brands are the same. Remember that the fever is really helping your child fight the infection.
- Ibuprofen products can be used for children 6 months or older. Sometimes these products work better for higher temperatures and last a longer period of time. Be sure that your little one is taking food if you give ibuprofen.
- Sponging is sometimes beneficial if your child’s temperature is quite high, in the 103 range and they are uncomfortable. Sponge only after giving a fever reducing medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If you sponge, the bath must be warm enough not to cause your child to chill. Chilling will increase the fever. A few minutes playing in the tub will often help bring a temperature down.
- Some parents are advised to alternate acetaminophen and ibuprofen. I caution about this…it is so easy to dose incorrectly. If your physician recommends this, be sure to get specific instructions and keep a log of when each dose was given, all of our minds get a little foggy when we have a sick child!
Be careful, new acetaminophen products are now all the same concentration. The infant drop concentration is no longer being made. This will help parents with dosing, and hopefully decrease errors in the future. Unfortunately, there is still some infant concentrations in homes. Be extremely careful, know what concentration you have at home, read the package instructions carefully each and every time you give the medicine. Always use the dropper that is provided with the medication, no other dosing device.
When do I call the doctor?
- Call if your child is less than 6 months of age and has any signs of illness.
- Call if an older child has a fever that has lasted longer than 3 days.
- Call if your child’s temperature continues to rise even with medication.
- Call if your child is constantly crying or fussy.
- Call if your child is sleeping more, is listless, or has little energy.
- Call if your child refuses to drink.
- Call if your child has trouble breathing.
- Call if your child appears to have neck pain or stiffness.
- Call if your child has any rash.
- Call if you are worried about your child’s symptoms.
Fevers are a part of childhood and most are not serious. Kids sure bounce back fast. After we parents have a sleepless night with a sick child, often they are ready to go the next day, and we are dragging!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.