Every parent dreads the moment their child feels warm to the touch, signaling a potential fever. While fever is a natural response of the body, it often leads to what many term as “fever phobia.” This article aims to dispel myths, provide guidance, and offer tips on administering medicine to children.
Understanding Fever in Children
What is a Fever?
A fever is the body’s normal response to various triggers, indicating an elevated body temperature. It’s not just a health problem but a sign that the body’s immune system is actively fighting off an infection or other invaders. The brain’s thermostat, especially the hypothalamus, plays a crucial role. When it detects an infection, injury, or other causes, it adjusts the body’s temperature, often leading to what many term as an elevated temperature or fever. It’s essential to get an accurate reading of this temperature, and tools like a digital or rectal thermometer are commonly used. The normal body temperature can vary, but any significant increase is usually considered a fever.
Why Do Children Get Fevers?
Children, especially younger kids, are more susceptible to fevers than adults. Their immune systems are still developing, making them more prone to both viral infections like the common cold or a sore throat and bacterial infections such as strep throat or even a urinary tract infection. The body raises the child’s fever as one of the body’s ways to defend against these microbial invaders. It’s always a good idea to consult with a child’s doctor or health care provider when a child has a persistent or very high temperature. They can provide medical advice, recommend fever medicine or fever reducers, and guide on the right dose of medicine.
Dangers of High Fever
While many fevers, especially those of lower temperature, are harmless and might even be beneficial, higher fevers can pose risks. One of the most concerning complications of high temperature in children is febrile seizures. These are convulsions triggered by a spike in body temperature and can be terrifying to witness. However, contrary to popular belief, most fevers, even higher temperatures, don’t cause permanent harm or brain damage.
Yet, there are instances when a fever requires immediate medical attention. If a child’s fever is accompanied by signs like a stiff neck, persistent vomiting, or signs of dehydration, it might be time to visit the pediatrician’s office or even the emergency department. In some cases, the fever might be a result of an ear infection, which can be painful and requires treatment.
Moreover, it’s essential to administer fever-reducing medication correctly. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are available, but always use the original bottle and a small medicine cup for accurate dosing. And if you’re unsure about the medication, especially with younger children or those a few months of age, always seek medical advice.
Measuring a Child’s Temperature
Methods and Tools
Accuracy is crucial when measuring a child’s temperature. While oral temperatures are common for older children, rectal temperatures provide the most accurate readings for infants. Digital and rectal thermometers are reliable tools for parents.
When to Be Concerned
A low-grade fever might not be alarming, but a high or persistent fever, especially in young babies, warrants a visit to the pediatrician. Always consider the child’s age and other accompanying symptoms.
How to Take Your Child’s Temperature
Understanding your child’s temperature is crucial in assessing their health. Here’s how to use various thermometers and what different readings might indicate.
How it works: Digital thermometers contain electronic heat sensors that record body temperature. They can be used in the mouth (oral), armpit (axillary), or rectum (rectal).
Age recommendation: Suitable for all ages. However, for children under 3 years, a rectal reading with a digital thermometer provides the most accurate reading.
How it works: Specifically designed for rectal use, these thermometers are considered the gold standard for infants due to their accuracy.
Age recommendation: Best for newborns and infants up to 3 years of age.
Ear (Tympanic) Thermometers
How it works: These thermometers measure the temperature inside the ear canal through infrared technology. They’re quick and generally comfortable for children.
Age recommendation: Suitable for children older than 6 months. Earwax or a curved ear canal can interfere with the accuracy in younger babies.
Temporal Artery (Forehead) Thermometers
How it works: By scanning the forehead’s temporal artery, these thermometers use infrared technology to measure temperature.
Age recommendation: Suitable for all ages, but they might be less accurate than rectal or ear thermometers.
How it works: Placed under the tongue, these thermometers measure temperature orally and are often digital.
Age recommendation: Best for children 4 years and older who can keep their mouth closed long enough to get an accurate reading.
Understanding Temperature Readings by Age:
Infants (0-3 months):
Normal: Up to 99.5°F (37.5°C)
Fever: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher – seek medical attention immediately.
Infants (3-12 months):
Normal: Up to 99.5°F (37.5°C)
Fever: 102.2°F (39°C) or higher – consult with a healthcare provider.
Toddlers and older children:
Normal: 97°F (36.1°C) to 99°F (37.2°C)
Fever: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.
Adolescents and adults:
Normal: 97°F (36.1°C) to 99°F (37.2°C)
Fever: 100°F (37.8°C) or higher.
Administering Medicine to Children
Choosing the Right Medicine
When it comes to fever medications, especially during viral illnesses or bacterial infections, it’s crucial to make informed decisions. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are commonly prescribed and are effective in bringing down a child’s fever. However, while these are suitable for most young children, it’s essential to be aware of specific risks. For instance, aspirin should be avoided, especially in young babies, due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but severe condition. Always rely on health information from trusted sources and consult with healthcare professionals when choosing the best way to treat your child’s symptoms.
Ensuring the Correct Dose
The most important thing when administering medicine is ensuring the correct dose. A little bit more or less can impact its effectiveness or even pose risks. Whether you’re giving acetaminophen suppositories or oral solutions, always use the provided measuring tools, such as a medicine cup. If you’re unsure about the right dose, especially considering the height of the fever or the child’s body weight, always consult the child’s healthcare provider. They can offer additional information and guidance on drug administration to ensure safety.
Making Medicine Palatable for Children
Children’s taste buds can be quite sensitive, making the administration of medicine challenging at times. The bitterness or unfamiliar taste can be off-putting. To make the process smoother, consider mixing liquid medicine with chocolate syrup or adopting the “spoonful of sugar” approach, reminiscent of Mary Poppins. For older kids, chewable tablets or medications with a different flavor might be more acceptable. Remember, the main thing is ensuring they get the medicine they need while causing the least distress.
Administering medicine, especially when it’s not palatable, can sometimes feel like a battle, especially with young children. Their faster heart rate, combined with the discomfort of feeling unwell, can make them more resistant. However, using distractions, positive reinforcements, or presenting the medicine as a “good thing” can help. For instance, after taking their medicine, you could place a cool cloth on the child’s forehead to offer relief in hot weather. If the child refuses or spits out the medicine, remain patient. Try different ways, perhaps administering the medicine to the back of the tongue to bypass the taste buds or checking the oral temperature to ensure they’re not too hot. Remember, good choices in these situations can make a significant difference in your child’s health and well-being.
Additional Tips for Managing Fever
- Dress the child in light clothing and place a cool cloth on their forehead to provide relief.
- Hydration is key. Offer extra fluids and cold drinks to prevent dehydration.
- Monitor for other symptoms like a stiff neck or rapid heartbeat. If in doubt, always consult a healthcare professional.
- Avoid cold baths, as they can shock the child’s system and are counterproductive.
Understanding fever in children is crucial for every parent. While the American Academy of Pediatrics and other health sources offer a wealth of information, always prioritize your child’s well-being and consult with healthcare professionals when in doubt.
Katie Reed is a passionate writer and mother of four vivacious boys from Salt Lake City, Utah. Drawing from her own journey through TTC, pregnancy, and the joys of raising children, she offers a wealth of insight into the world of motherhood. Beyond her heartfelt tales, Katie delights her readers with family-friendly recipes, engaging crafts, and a curated library of printables for both kids and adults. When she’s not penning her experiences, you’ll find her crafting memories with her husband and sons—Dexter, Daniel, Chester, and Wilder.