By the preschool years, kids have usually traded so many bugs back and forth that parents are quite familiar with childhood fevers.
“My younger son, James, is three years old and I find he gets fevers quickly — pretty much with every cold,” says his mom, Brenna Dubé. “Unless he is cranky or clingy, I don’t treat a low or medium temperature with medicine. I believe that fevers are the body’s way of attacking bacteria and viruses. However, if the fever is high or it’s affecting his behaviour, then we will give medicine.”
Dubé has the right idea, says Mark Feldman, chief of paediatrics at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto. “There is no need to be overly anxious about fever. We deal with fever phobias all the time. Generally speaking, the fever itself is not a concern. It’s the cause of the fever that needs to be determined.”
The “vast majority” of fevers in children, says Feldman, are caused by viruses and clear up on their own. Moreover, the degree of fever does not necessarily correlate with the severity of the illness: “A child with a mild infection can have a high fever, while a child with a severe infection may have no fever at all.”
If a temperature is not really bothering a child, there is no need to try to bring it down, says Feldman. But often “a fever makes kids uncomfortable. They feel sick, achy and don’t eat. So in my opinion, it is worthwhile to treat a fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help the child be more comfortable.” Never give aspirin-based medication (acetylsalicylic acid or ASA) to children or teens, and make sure to follow the dosing instructions on the label carefully to avoid accidental overdose.
As for other means of lowering fever, it makes sense to remove extra blankets and offer plenty of fluids, but aggressive measures like sponging with cool water or taking off the child’s clothes are not recommended. Not only are they uncomfortable for a sick child, they may cause shivering which can actually increase the fever.
When should you see the doctor? Feldman suggests checking in if the fever remains after 48 hours, or if your child has other worrying symptoms, such as lethargy, persistent wheezing or coughing, a stiff neck, disorientation, inability to keep down fluids, or if she just seems really ill.
Thermometer Ins and Outs
What’s the best way to take a child’s temperature? What’s normal for the different methods? All is answered on the Canadian Paediatric Society website: caringforkids.cps.ca, in an article written by Mark Feldman, chief of paediatrics at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto.
Donna Larkin is a little more nervous of high fevers than some parents. That’s because each of her twin daughters had a convulsion brought on by high fever when they were toddlers. Some children are more prone to febrile seizures, says paediatrician Mark Feldman, and though “it truly doesn’t cause any harm to the child,” it’s still a scary experience no parent wants to repeat.
Febrile convulsions last only for a minute or two, but it can feel like much longer. Your child may become unconscious or unaware of her surroundings. Her body may feel stiff or floppy, and you will probably notice jerking or twitching movements.
If your child has a febrile convulsion, keep her on her side until it passes and contact your doctor. If the convulsion lasts five minutes or longer, call an ambulance or go to emergency.