Fever in Children: How and When to Treat

Dr. Emelie Medalle

Fever is a common symptom during cold and flu season. Dr. Emelie Medalle, pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Primary Care – Town and Country Pediatrics takes the time to answer some fever FAQs.

What causes a fever?

A fever is an elevation of body temperature that is above the normal body temperature, so anything above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a biological response to an underlying illness. Fever is a symptom; it is not a disease in and of itself. A fever in children is typically caused by an infection but can also be a temporary side effect of routine childhood vaccinations. 

Digital thermometers (rectal, oral or axillary) are the most accurate method of taking your child's temperature and are sold at most drugstores. 

When is a children's fever cause for concern?

The level of concern for a kid's fever varies by temperature and age group. For children 0-36 months, a fever greater than or equal to 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit is concerning and should be evaluated by a medical specialist. For older children, a fever is less concerning. Anything above 103.1 degrees should be monitored – if it lasts for more than a few days, call your doctor.

How do you treat a fever?

In children 0-36 months, treatment will be determined by a medical team. For older children, initial treatment is aimed at increasing fluids and getting plenty of rest. The main goal is to make your child more comfortable. Additional treatments include a sponge bath with tepid (not cold) water, or an appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

What can happen if a fever is left untreated?

Fevers don’t typically need to be treated at all, unless your child is uncomfortable or has a history of febrile seizures. Any fever less than 105 degrees Fahrenheit won’t be harmful. Fever becomes worrisome if the child is not responding normally, has seizures, has an underlying chronic condition, or has a fever of above 104 degrees Fahrenheit that lasts for longer than three days.

True or False: The Higher the Fever, the Sicker the Kid.

This statement is false! Higher fever does not always correlate with severity of disease. It’s necessary to look at other signs and symptoms, such as vomiting or rashes. Also, consider reassessing the fever and its origin if it does not respond to antipyretics or recurs chronically.

Learn More About Lurie Children's Primary Care

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