Feverish children can be a nightmare for their parents and guardians. Wouldn’t it be better if our children do not have fever?
Fever is a common phenomenon and is one of the main reasons for paediatric hospital admissions around the world. In some circumstances, they can resolve on their own with treatment at home.
What is fever?
This is a simple question that does not have a simple answer. A person has fever when the body temperature goes above 37.5 degrees Celcius or 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the temperature of the human body changes with time and activity. It usually decreases in the morning and increases at night. It also increases with physical activities like sports.
Conditions such as bacterial infection or certain illnesses trigger the hypothalamus to increase the body temperature. This happens as a normal body defense mechanism to fight infections and is one of the benefits of fever to the human body.
There are several ways to determine your child’s body temperature, many of which can be done at home. It can be measured through the mouth or underarms using a mercury thermometer. Digital thermometers that measure body temperature through the ears can also be found commercially at supermarkets and pharmacies. There are also devices which measure body temperature through a sensor that is stuck to the forehead, but these are not very accurate.
What causes fever?
The following are some causes of fever in children:
- Upper respiratory tract viral infections, with symptoms like cough and runny nose
- Infection of the throat and ears
- Lung infections
- Urinary tract infection
- Dengue fever
- Chicken pox
- Non-infectious diseases like Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
Sometimes, children can have fever in the absence of illness. For example, after receiving immunisation or when wearing excessive layers of clothes or blankets. Babies can also have fever when teething, but body temperatures rarely exceed 37.8 degrees Celcius.
When should I bring my child to the doctor?
Although most fevers can be overcome without medications, you are advised to bring your children to the doctor in the following events:
- Fever exceeding 38 degrees Celcius for babies less than 3 months old.
- Fever exceeding 39 degrees Celcius for babies aged between 3 to 6 months.
- Fever in addition to symptoms of other illnesses for children aged 6 months and above
Fever caused by dangerous illnesses rarely occurs but it is beneficial to know some of the warning signs in order not to delay treatment. Some signs that may indicate a more serious condition include:
- Change in behaviour like non-stop or shrill crying, difficulty in comforting the crying child and if the child does not interact normally
- Reduced activity and prolonged sleep
- Reduced drinking and less frequent urination. Water consumption is a more important indicator than appetite.
- Continuous vomiting and/or diarrhoea
- High fever but cool hands and feet
- Change in skin colour (bluish or checkered patches) or dark red/purplish rash
- Rapid breathing or difficulty in breathing
- Swollen joints
- Continuous fever
- Fever and living in areas with recent dengue outbreaks
You should also bring your child to the doctor if you are worried about their condition. As the people who interact closest and most frequently with your children, your observation about their condition is the most vital and should not be taken lightly by medical practitioners.
What can I do?
Ensure your child receives adequate water either in the form of baby formula or plain water; older children can be given fruit juices and other drinks. Ensure clothing is not too thick so the child feels comfortable.
For fevers caused by less serious infections, paracetamol or ibuprofen can be administered at home. Aspirin is not recommended for the treatment of fever in children. It is best to seek a doctor’s advice regarding the use of any medications because they need to be given at suitable doses in accordance to your child’s weight and cannot be given concurrently.
Fever in children is usually caused by common infections and can be treated at home with a doctor’s advice. Fevers caused by serious conditions may be rare but parents and guardians must be aware of the danger signs to ensure early treatment at the hospital. If in doubt, see a doctor.
Parents and guardians are encouraged to purchase a thermometer for home use.
Fever where the temperature is not too high can be treated without medications; if medication is required, please get a medical practitioner’s advise so the correct dose can be administered. Not all infections require antibiotic treatment.
Dr. Alya Hamzah is a pediatrician based in Sabah. She places high importance on educating patients and their families in ensuring optimum treatment is delivered. Find out more on The Team page.
- Paediatric Secrets – 5th Edition 2011, Richard Polin & Mark Ditmar