Parents have been hot to ask me when to worry about their child having a fever. Let me try to cool down everyone’s concern and help separate the facts from the fiction in regard to fever.

One question I am often asked is whether or not fever is bad for a child. Fever is the body’s way to fight off infection and rev up the body’s immune system, so fevers are actually good for children.

Another common concern is that fevers over 104 are dangerous and can cause brain damage. Actually fevers over 108 have been shown to cause brain damage and that situation is very, very rare and only occurs with extreme environmental temperatures. Fevers due to infection never climb high enough in temperature to cause brain injury.

Parents also worry that the exact number on the thermometer is a problem. Actually, the number is only of interest in infants under a month, when it’s important to know if temperatures rise to or go above 100.4. When your child is older than one month – and immunized – it is not the number, but what your child looks like, that is important in terms of their overall wellness.

As to treatment, the first steps in lowering a child’s fever should be to maintain adequate hydration and to not overdress your child or cover your child with blankets, which will trap heat.

When you’re considering medicine, be aware that acetaminophen or ibuprofen should only be used to treat your child’s discomfort. As I just mentioned, fever helps rid your child’s body of the infection so if your child is not uncomfortable with a fever, you don’t have to automatically give them a fever-reducing medication.

Here’s the bottom line on fever: if you are concerned about your child having a fever – no matter what the temperature on the thermometer – especially if there is difficulty in terms of their breathing, staying hydrated, or being alert, please talk to your child’s doctor.

Hopefully tips like this will burn brightly in your minds so you can stay calm, cool, and collected the next time your child has a fever.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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