I know babies can get high fevers, but at what temperature should I think about taking my baby to an emergency room?

I know babies can get high fevers, but at what temperature should I think about taking my baby to an emergency room?

Question:
Ellen Rome, M.D.
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Ellen Rome, M.D.

Dr. Ellen Rome is a board-certified pediatrician who was among the first in the U.S. to be board certified in adolescent medicine. She... Read more

Fever is typically a warning sign that your child is fighting infection or inflammation, usually due to a virus or bacteria. But fever itself, which signals the body's defense cells to kick into action, is not necessarily dangerous for the average child.

If your baby is less than 3 months old, however, and has temperature of 100.3º F (rectal and ear thermometers give a more accurate reading than an oral thermometer), call your pediatrician, or take her to a pediatric-care site or emergency room if your doc is unavailable. A young infant's defense system does not work as efficiently as an older child's or an adult's, so fever at this age can be a marker for otherwise silent major infection brewing.

In babies 3 months and older, call your doctor if the fever reaches 105º. Your infant isn't going to self-destruct at this temp, but prompt medical attention can head off seizures and brain injury.

If your infant or child has a history of seizures with fever (called febrile seizures), with your pediatrician's approval you can alternate ibuprofen and acetaminophen every four hours to keep the fever down.

Meanwhile, a child 3 months and older, with a temperature under 105º and no history of seizure, should handle fever just fine. If she seems uncomfortable, you can give her a dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen based on her weight. Since fever can dehydrate, offer breast milk or formula to babies under 1 year; and milk or clear, watered-down juices (apple, white grape, peach) for the toddler on up, or Pedialyte. A cool cloth on the forehead or placing her in a lukewarm bath (if she'll tolerate it) can also make her more comfortable.

Finally, if your child simply does not look right, or her fever is accompanied by severe vomiting, diarrhea or ear pain, call your pediatrician or, if it's after-hours, go to the local pediatric emergency room.

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