Don’t fret about fevers

The kids are back at school, sharing pencils, scissors… and germs. In the coming weeks, chances are many of them will get sick with the viruses that seem to circulate in the classroom faster than the attendance sheet.

When the school nurse calls to say your child has a temperature, it can be easy to think something is seriously wrong. But the truth is, a fever is normally a good sign that the immune system is working as it should.

“This is the body’s natural defense mechanism,” said Sherman Alter, MD, medical director of infectious diseases at Dayton Children’s Hospital. “Turning up the heat makes the body a less comfortable place for germs that cause infections.”

Not all fevers need to be treated. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that there is evidence that some illnesses may resolve faster if the fever is left untreated. If your child seems okay except for the temperature, rest and fluids are enough while they fight the infection.

A high fever, however, can be uncomfortable and can make problems, like dehydration, worse. In that case, you may want to treat the fever with medicine so your child can rest and drink enough fluids. Choose either acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but avoid aspirin as it may lead to a rare but serious illness, Reye’s syndrome. Be sure not to double up on dosages by giving your child a multi-symptom medicine on top of that, for example, one that reduces fever and relieves congestion.

One in every 25 kids will suffer what are called “febrile seizures” when they have a high temperature. These are convulsions that last about a minute or two. It can be scary for a parent to see, but they do not cause lasting damage. However, you should notify your doctor if your child has one. Most children outgrow this side effect by the time they are six years old.

While fevers are not serious in otherwise healthy children, there are certain times where a doctor should see them right away.

“Babies younger than three months with a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher need immediate medical attention,” said Alter. “It can be a sign of a potentially serious infection. Call the doctor right away or take the baby to the emergency department.”

The doctor also needs to see an older child if his or her temperature gets higher than 102.2 degrees. You may need to call the doctor as well if your child has a lower temperature but other troubling symptoms like:

  • Sore throat
  • Ear-ache
  • Rash
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Recurring diarrhea
  • Painful urination
  • A chronic medical condition

If there is every any question in your mind about the severity of your child’s illness, don’t be shy about calling your doctor.

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This look at a children’s health or safety issue comes from Dayton Children’s Hospital.

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