The right way to reduce your child’s fever

Posted on May 28, 2015

Help your child cope with a fever.

Many parents panic when their children have fevers. That’s not always necessary. In fact, a fever can help your child’s body fight off an infection. But when a fever rises high enough that your child is uncomfortable or dehydrated, there are quick and easy ways to lower it without a trip to the pediatrician.

As a general rule, you should focus on the way your child looks, feels, and acts rather than what the thermometer says. “If you have to chase him around to give him medicine, he probably doesn’t need it,” says Dr. Andrea Goins. “Letting your child’s fever run its course may actually help his body fight the underlying infection.”

The most important step to reducing a fever is to cool the body down. This can be done naturally or medicinally.

Natural fever-reducing methods: 

  • Place a cool, damp washcloth on your child’s forehead while he or she rests.
  • Give your child a lukewarm bath. When the water evaporates, the entire body temperature goes down. Note – do not give your child a cold bath! This can make him or her shiver. The body will try to stay warm by heating up, causing the fever to get worse.
  • Keep your child hydrated. Dehydration is a common side effect of fevers. Drinks that contain electrolytes, such as ginger ale, enhanced waters, and low-sugar sports drinks, are great options — but be sure to avoid caffeine. Ice pops are another great choice, as they provide hydration while cooling the body from the inside out. And they taste great!
  • When you see your child shivering, it’s natural to want to add some layers to keep him or her warm. But try not to! If your child is shivering, a light blanket can help temporarily. After warming up, remove the blanket and try to remove as many layers as possible. The goal is to cool down!

Medicinal fever reducers:

Sure, medicines, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can help reduce a fever. But keep in mind, you will have to continuously give the medication over (at least) a 24-hour period. Why? Dr. Andrea Goins explains, “Once a fever reducer wears off, your child’s temperature may sore back up because the underlying cause is still there. While it’s a natural instinct to treat your child’s fever so they feel better, keep in mind that medication will merely mask it, not cure it.”

Before giving medicine to your child, be sure to carefully read the labels and give the proper dosage. Note that some medicines are not suitable for young children. If in doubt, call your doctor.

And NEVER use Aspirin to treat a fever in children, as it has been linked to liver failure and other medical issues.

When to call the doctor.

“A lot of parents think a fever is really dangerous,” says Dr. Andrea Goins.” But the vast majority of the time, it’s nothing serious.”

Still, there may be times when a trip to the doctor is necessary.

When taking your child’s temperature, keep his or her age in mind. If a child is under the age of 3, the temperature should be taken rectally. Any child over the age of three will be able to give an accurate reading with an oral thermometer.

When to make the call.

Age Temperature What to do
Babies
0–3 months 100.4⁰ F (38⁰ C) or higher Call the doctor, even if your child doesn’t have any other signs or symptoms.
3–6 months Up to 102⁰ F (38.9⁰ C) Encourage your child to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Medication isn’t needed. If your child seems unusually irritable, lethargic, or uncomfortable, it’s time to call your doctor.
6 months–3 years Above 102⁰ F (38.9⁰ C) Give your child acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol, Tempra). If your child is 6 months or older, ibuprofen (i.e., Advil, Motrin) is OK, too. Note: Don’t give aspirin to anyone 18 years or younger. Call the doctor if the fever doesn’t respond to the medication or lasts longer than one day.
Children
3–17 years Up to 102⁰ F (38.9⁰ C) Encourage your child to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Medication isn’t needed. Call the doctor if your child seems unusually irritable or lethargic or complains of significant discomfort. Give your child acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol, Tempra). If your child is 6 months or older, ibuprofen (i.e., Advil, Motrin) is OK, too. Note: Don’t give aspirin to anyone 18 years or younger. Call the doctor if the fever doesn’t respond to the medication or lasts longer than one day.

 

Typically, doctors don’t recommend tympanic thermometers (temperatures taken via the ear) because it’s difficult to get an accurate reading.

No matter how old your child is, call the doctor if he or she has a fever as well as any symptoms, including a cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, or purple spots on the skin. These can all be signs of more serious health problems.

To learn more about Children’s Hospital at Erlanger, visit www.erlanger.org/Childrens.  To contact us or to make an appointment with a pediatrician, call 423-778-2564.

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