February 18, 2015
It’s no surprise that right now is high-season for sickness. Kids are spreading colds, coughs, influenza, RSV, and the general-all-around crud. What do all these things usually have in common? Fevers. Yucky, “I-didn’t-know-my-thermometer-could-even-read-that-high” fevers. It’s a scary world out there for parents when it comes to navigating your kid’s temperature. Trust me, I know. I’ve been on-call for the past few weeks, and almost every night I hear from parents with panic in their voice describing their child’s feverish situation, unsure if the fever facts they learned when they were kids are still true.
In the interest of calming the panic and putting parents’ minds at ease, let’s dispel a few myths and spread this fever information far and wide. Every parent will be faced with a feverish child sooner or later, so here are 5 fever facts every parent needs to know.
Side note: These fever facts apply to children over the age of 12 weeks. If any baby under 12 weeks develops a fever, you should take him or her to a pediatric health provider immediately.
Fever Fact #1: Normal fevers between 100 and 104℉ (37.8-40℃) are actually GOOD for sick children! Fevers benefit your child by activating the immune system. Research shows that a fever can help decrease the growth and reproduction of bacteria and viruses in your child. It’s one of the body’s protective mechanisms. The same way you boil water to kill germs, the body boils germs with a fever! So, as initially frightening as a fever can be, try to remember that your child’s body is doing it’s job!
Fever Fact #2: I’m sure you have probably heard this myth from your grandmother… “but what about brain damage???” I get this one from parents all the time. Everyone can take a deep breath because fevers caused by infection DO NOT cause brain damage. A child does not have brain damage until a temperature reaches 108℉ or higher, and this only happens from extreme environmental exposures, like a child being left in a hot car. So as scared as you might be when your thermometer reads 104℉ for the first time, just remember, your child’s brain isn’t melting and then re-read fact #1.
Fever Fact #3: Think big picture! As a provider, I’m always looking at the overall picture of how your child looks. I’m not focused on whether a temperature is 101.2℉ or 101.8℉. While it’s still a good idea to take your child’s temperature, resist the urge to take their temperature 4 or 5 times in different locations until you get a number you like. It really doesn’t matter that much.
Fever Fact #4: Sometimes the simplest of viruses can create the highest temperatures. But sometimes incredibly sick children will have no temperature at all. Moral of the story: look at your child. Is he or she acting differently? Having trouble breathing? Dehydrated? Go to your medical provider right away!!!! Is your toddler running around your house with a 102 fever causing her normal havoc? Keep her comfortable, turn on Frozen for the two-hundredth time and keep a close eye her. Again, it’s about the big picture. The number on the thermometer does not necessarily tell you how sick your child is.
Fever Fact #5: NO! In fact, most fevers do not need to be treated with fever medications (unless your pediatric care provider specifies otherwise). The best care you can give a child with a fever is comfort care! Cuddles on the couch, plenty of fluids, and extra naps! Remember, a fever can help fight the infection, so we don’t need to necessarily get rid of it with medicine. Use fever medications when a child is very uncomfortable, not just because your child feels warm.
What is a fever? How should you take your child’s temperature? When do you decide to treat it? When should you go to the pediatric office? Understanding fevers can initially be tricky, but I explain to parents all they need to know about fevers in my FREE, simple ebook, “Don’t Sweat It! Fever Facts Every Parent Should Know.” Download it by clicking on that hyperlink and entering your email. Become a fever expert and treat your child’s fevers with confidence!