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

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

"In the majority of kids who get fevers, it's simply 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."

When to Call the Doctor About a Fever

Many parents aren't sure when they should call the pediatrician if their child's temperature 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. Your doctor can provide reassurance, especially if you are calling in the middle of the night."

Your doctor will try to figure out what's causing the fever. 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.

What to Do When Your Child Has a Fever

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 doses – While it's okay to give your child acetaminophen (such asTylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil), give the correct doses. 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 cloths – If your child's skin feels hot, a cool washcloth on the forehead may provide some comfort.
  • Drink liquids – Provide a variety of beverages besides water, such as Pedialyte or some other drink with electrolytes. "Your body does need liquids," she says. "It's really not necessary to eat in the short term, but drinking fluids is important for sick children."

Dr. Frank says that if your child has a fever, do not:

  • Give an ice bath, which can cause the child a lot of discomfort
  • Push your child to maintain a regular schedule of activities. Children should scale back their activities and rest.

If your child's fever lasts for more than five days,it's time to see their doctor. Also, if your infant is younger than 2 months and has a fever, contact your 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 University Hospitals doctor online.

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