Fever: Learn about fevers in children

What is it?

Normally, the human body temperature is around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 37 degrees Celsius. The technical definition of fever is a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38 degrees Celsius. The body develops a fever as a defense mechanism against infection by viruses and bacteria. Therefore, if your child has a fever, he likely has an infection of some type. Fever should not be viewed with alarm. It helps fight infection. Fever does not cause brain damage unless it reaches above 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Most high fevers are caused by viruses and will disappear without treatment for the infection itself. Antibiotics have no effect on viral infections, and thus, most causes of fever in children require no antibiotics.

What can/should be done at home

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are the two medications for children that help fight fever. Although ibuprofen is safe, there are may be some side effects, including stomach upset.

In addition, bathing your child with lukewarm water will help bring down fever. Never use cold water or alcohol to bathe your child. This will cause shivering and actually increase the temperature. It often takes 20 to 30 minutes in the bath to significantly reduce the fever.

The child with fever should be dressed in very light clothing until the fever breaks.

Remember, fevers do not necessarily need to be treated unless your child is feeling bad from the high temperature. Fever is the one of the body’s ways of fighting infection. So, if your child is playful and not bothered by the fever, you may hold off on treating it. But be sure to increase fluid intake because fever will increase the body's fluid needs.

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