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The Do's and Don'ts of Treating Fevers in Children

Posted 3/5/2015 by UHBlog

If at any time your child's fever alarms you, call your doctor.

Almost nothing makes a parent feel more helpless than when their child is sick with a fever. Although your child looks miserable, that fever may actually be a good thing.

"In the majority of kids who get fevers, it's just their body's response to an infection," says pediatric hospitalist Erin Frank, MD. "Parents think it's a bad thing for their child to have a fever, but it's a sign the body is working as it should."

If your child has a fever, your doctor will try to figure out what's causing it. Usually, the main reason is a cold or viral infection. Sometimes, it's a bacterial infection, such as strep throat or an ear infection. The pediatrician will also want to know how high the fever is.

Many parents aren't sure when they should call the pediatrician if their child's fever spikes.

"There is not a magic number of 104 degrees or 105 degrees," Dr. Frank says. "But with higher fevers or if you're ever concerned, it's at least worth a call to check in with your doctor. The doctor can provide reassurance, especially if you are calling in the middle of the night."

There are several things you can do to help lower your child's fever, such as:

  • Use medication -- "When kids feel really unwell, they're fussier and grumpy," Dr. Frank says. "By treating the fever with common over-the-counter drugs, it allows them to feel better."
  • Watch dosages – While it's okay to give your child acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil), use the correct dosages. It's also acceptable to switch between acetaminophen and ibuprofen while treating the fever. "They work very differently," Dr. Frank says. "You can give both during the course of treating a fever. It takes 30 to 60 minutes for the medicine to take effect. If one is not effective after an hour, then try the other product."
  • Apply cool towels – If your child's skin feels hot, a cool rag to his forehead is comforting.
  • Drink liquids – Provide a variety of beverages besides water, such as Pedialyte or something with electrolytes. "Your body does need liquids," she says. "It's really not necessary to eat in the short term, but drinking is important for sick children."

With a fever, you don't want to:

  • Give an ice bath, which can cause the child a lot of discomfort
  • Push activities so that older kids get a chance to pull back from strenuous activities and rest

If your child's fever lasts for more than five days, they should see their doctor. Also, if your infant is under 2 months old and has a fever, you'll want to see their pediatrician.

Erin Frank, MD is a pediatric hospitalist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Frank or any other doctor online.

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