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Fever

Fever; temperature; degrees; infection; virus; aspirin; paracetamol; bath; drinks; thermometer; fit; convulsion; febrile; shiver; sponge; illness; ibuprofen; ;

Fever is present when the temperature of the body rises above normal. The normal body temperature varies between about 35.8ºC and 37.4ºC. 

Contents


What is fever?

Fever is present when the temperature of the body rises above normal. 

  • The normal body temperature varies between about 35.8ºC and 37.4ºC. 
  • A fever is considered to be a temperature above 38ºC when taken under the arm or in the mouth.

What causes fever?

Fever is a way in which the body fights infection and it does not always mean your child has a serious illness.

  • Fevers are common in children and are usually due to infection.  Most childhood infections are caused by viruses and do not require antibiotics. Some infections are due to bacteria and some of these may need antibiotics.
  • It is normal for a child to have many mild infections which cause fever. The average child has five to ten viral infections each year.  The younger the child, the more often they occur.

When to take your child's temperature

  • When your child feels warmer than usual.
  • When your child is irritable and miserable.
  • When your child looks unwell.

How to take your child's temperature

Under the arm (axillary) temperature

  • This way can be used for all children.
  • Place the thermometer high in the armpit and then place the arm down by the side.
  • Read the thermometer after 3 minutes – OR follow the manufacturer's instructions with the electronic type.

Mouth (oral) temperature
Can be used for children older than 5 years:

  • Place the thermometer as far under the tongue as possible and have your child keep their mouth closed around the thermometer. 
  • Read the thermometer after 3 minutes – OR follow the manufacturer's instructions with the electronic type.
  • Do not use this method if your child has recently had a hot or cold drink.

Ear (tympanic) temperature

  • Temperature may also be checked using a special ear thermometer. Follow the instructions that come with the thermometer.

Temporal artery thermometers

  • These are the simplest thermometers to use. The thermometer is scanned across your child’s forehead. An advantage of these thermometers is that you can check a sleeping child without waking her.

What to do for the fever

Fever alone does not harm your child.  It will often make your child feel uncomfortable and miserable.

A fever will run its course regardless of treatment. Fever is a result of the body’s attempt to fight an infection. Your child’s temperature will return to normal when the infection or other cause of the fever has completely gone.

In older children, treat the fever only if you feel it’s making your child uncomfortable, irritable or so lethargic that she can’t drink enough fluids.

Generally, children handle fever well, but you can do a few things to make your child more comfortable:

  • dress your child lightly or take off most of their clothes to allow cooling. Avoid fans and draughts
  • encourage your child to drink clear fluids.  If your child isn’t hungry, that’s OK. The most important thing is to make sure he’s drinking enough to avoid dehydration.
  • paracetamol may be helpful if your child's temperature is raised or your child is miserable, but it is not always needed.  It may make your child feel better but does not always reduce the temperature.
  • ibuprofen is another medication which can be given for fever.  There is no benefit in giving your child ibuprofen together with, or instead of, paracetamol OR in giving ibuprofen by alternating doses with paracetamol doses. 

Have a look at the topic 'Using paracetamol or ibuprofen'.

Aspirin should not be used to treat fever.

Tepid sponging is not recommended 

  • Tepid sponging (sponging with warm water) does not bring a child's temperature down for long; it will go back up as soon as the sponging is stopped.
  • Sponging does not affect the part of the brain that controls temperature.
  • Cool baths, sponging and fans can actually make your child more uncomfortable.
  • Using cool water can be uncomfortable for a child, and if the child cries or shivers, the body temperature usually goes up, not down.

Never place a sleeping, drowsy, or unconscious child or baby in a bath.

Most importantly
Children may not understand why they are feeling ill and will need extra care and reassurance.  If your child is irritable and upset, this may be difficult, but it is one of the most useful things you can do.

When to take your child to the doctor

Children with fevers are usually quieter and less active than usual.

See your doctor if:

  • your child is looking more ill than before
  • your child is more difficult to wake up
  • your child has a rash
  • your child has persistent vomiting or diarrhoea
  • your child will not drink
  • a high fever persists even though you have given paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • your child has pain
  • you are worried in any way.

All babies under 12 months with fever should be seen by a doctor

If a child has a convulsion (fit)

Children under 6 years of age may have a fit or febrile convulsion.  This is usually due to the temperature rising rapidly, not always the actual height of the temperature itself.

These fits are frightening to watch, but generally will not cause harm to your child. Most fits caused by a fever will stop within 5 minutes.  However, it is still important to see your doctor to make sure that the cause of the fever does not require specific treatment.

For more information have a look at the topic 'Febrile convulsions - fits caused by fever'.

How much paracetamol?

Work out the amount of paracetamol your child needs by using the information on the bottle.

  • Do not give more often than every four hours.
  • Do not give more than 5 doses each 24 hours.
  • There are many mixtures which contain paracetamol in different strengths. Carefully check the amount of your product to give.
  • Be careful – some cough and cold products already contain paracetamol.
  • In older children weighing over 60kg and taking tablets, no more than EIGHT 500mg tablets should be taken in any 24 hour period.

The topic 'Using paracetamol or ibuprofen' has more information about these medicines.

How much ibuprofen?

Work out the amount of ibuprofen your child needs by using the information on the bottle.

  • There are many different products which contain ibuprofen in different strengths. Carefully check the amount of your product to give.
  • Do not give more than 3 doses each 24 hours.
  • In older children weighing over 40kg and taking tablets, no more than THREE does of 400mg should be taken in any 24 hour period.

The topic 'Using paracetamol or ibuprofen' has more information about these medicines.

References and more to read

Raising Children Network 
http://raisingchildren.net.au/ 

Pregnancy, birth and baby 
http://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/

Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne 
http://www.rch.org.au/ 

Women & Children's Hospital, Adelaide, Paediatric Emergency & Pharmacy Departments, South Australia April 2007.

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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