We’ve all been there: your little one cries in the night, you rush in to console and find their body hot to the touch. You attempt to take their temperature but in discomfort, they wiggle and squirm. Finally, after several attempts, you get a reading of 101° or was it 102°? Because you’ve learned a temperature under the armpit is typically off by a degree or two, you really begin to feel alarmed.
An increase in body temperature over 100.4°F is considered a fever. A fever can be particularly alarming in babies or young children. However, a fever in itself is not necessarily harmful. It is the body’s natural line of defense against bacterial and viral infections. Fighting off an infection is exactly what you want your child’s body to do. Amazingly, kids without compromised immune systems can usually tolerate a fever of up to 106°F without serious complications. But I don’t recommend you test that out for yourself.
So how do you know when you can take your finger off speed-dial to your pediatrician or when you need to call their emergency line?
When Can You Relax?
Here are general guidelines to follow.
- Fever up to 102.5 F if your child is 3 months to 3 years of age.
- Fevers under 103° and less than five days for children over 3 years of age, if your child’s overall behavior is relatively normal and they are able to take in limited food and water.
- Your child or baby was recently vaccinated and is experiencing a low-grade fever (under 101°F) lasting less than two days.
There comes a point though where a fever is too high.
How High is Too High?
The cause for concern varies depending on the age of your child. This is because the symptoms may be more indicative of their health than the reading on the thermometer. Doctor’s DO recommend seeking medical advice and/or care for the following:
When to Seek Immediate Medical Care
- Age 6 weeks and under: with a confirmed rectal temperature of 101 or higher this is a medical emergency! Do not give fever-reducing medicine until a doctor has examined your infant.
- Age 7 weeks to 3 months: with a fever over 101 treat the fever and call your doctor within a few hours unless it’s overnight at which point you can usually wait till morning.
- Child of any age: with a fever of 104 or higher that doesn’t quickly come down to 100-101 with fever reducers and is accompanied by~
- Ongoing crying with the inability to console
- No desire or ability to drink fluids
- No desire or ability to urinate a minimum (i.e. 4 wet diapers a day for babies / peeing every 8-12 hours for potty-trained kids)
- A severe headache or stomachache
- Difficulty breathing and/or chest pain
- Rash-like bruising
When to Seek Verbal Medical Advice
- Age 3-6 months: with a rectal temperature of 100.4 or higher as they may contract a serious infection without any other symptoms
- Age 6 months – 2 years: with a temperature of 102 or greater or longer than 2 days under 102
- Age 2 years +: with a temperature of 104 or higher that don’t quickly come down to 100-101 with fever reducers or longer than 5 days under 104
- Your child or baby was recently vaccinated and is experiencing a fever of 102°F or greater lasting more than two days.
Doctors encourage you to call for help or advice if you are at all in doubt for your child’s health and well-being. Trust your instincts.
How to Treat a Fever
For the most part, treating a low-grade fever is merely making your child as comfortable as possible as the fever itself is not the problem. Of course, rest and sleep are paramount. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure they stay hydrated.
When a fever is high and must be reduced, medications are necessary. When administering over the counter medication carefully follow dosage guidelines. And Remember:
- Do NOT give aspirin to a child under 16 years of age
- Do NOT give aspirin-containing medications
A luke-warm bath or cool body cloth can help reduce a fever as well and can be done in conjunction with medication.
For more detailed information, see Dr. Sears The Baby Book.
P.S. What thermometer do you use?