Few things send parents' fears skyrocketing like a child’s rising temperature. “But in healthy kids over six months, a fever isn’t usually cause for concern,” says paediatrician Mark Feldman. A temperature of 38 degrees or more spells fever. Babies under three months should be taken to hospital immediately because they’re at the highest risk of complications, and those three to six months should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. For kids over six months, there’s no reason to rush to the doctor unless the fever is accompanied by continual diarrhea or vomiting lasting more than 24 hours; or a stiff neck, severe headache, they’re refusing fluids, or if the fever remains elevated for more than 24 hours. Barring these symptoms, kids can be safely treated at home. Here’s how.
Keep them cool
Keeping kids comfy is as simple as dressing them in loose-fitting, breathable cotton clothing, ensuring their bedroom isn’t too hot or cold and offering plenty of fluids. “I don’t recommend cool baths because it can bring their temperature down too quickly, which can be uncomfortable for them,” says Feldman. A cool — not cold — compress on their forehead can provide a little added relief.
If she’s fussy, medication may be needed to lower her temperature a little. “It may only take a few degrees for her to feel better,” “says Feldman. Children’s (or infant) acetaminophen or ibuprofen, or a combination of the two, will do the job. Some viral illnesses will respond better to one or the other, and in some cases using them in tandem works best. If giving them together, start with acetaminophen and follow with ibuprofen three hours later. Acetaminophen can be given again at the six-hour mark, ibuprofen at nine hours and so on. (Follow the package instructions for specific dosage recommendations based on age and weight.) “One caution with ibuprofen is that kids need to be drinking lots of water with it because it’s metabolized by the kidneys, and it can be hard on their body and upset their stomach otherwise,” he says.
Some kids under five can have febrile seizures, which occur when they develop a medium or high fever. “About one in 20 kids will have one, and if they do, they’re at greater risk of having one again,” says Feldman. Although they’re terrifying for parents, fever seizures are usually brief and rarely cause any long-term damage. During a seizure, turn her on her side, make sure there’s nothing in her mouth and watch her closely. Call 911 if it lasts more than five minutes. Once the seizure has passed, follow up with your doctor to rule out more serious potential underlying causes like meningitis.
A version of this article appeared in our July 2012 issue with the headline "Mercury Rising" (p. 30).