Every parent knows the feeling. Your child is hot, sweaty, flushed, and their forehead feels warm. They may feel relatively fine, or they may feel miserable—but as a parent, you’re definitely concerned.
In some cases, you might be sure your child has a fever, but unsure about what’s causing it or what you should do. Should you have them rest and drink lots of fluids or should you whisk them off to an urgent care center?
Our bodies have an internal thermostat which sometimes raises our body temperature above the normal level. This temperature increase is not always cause for concern; in fact, our temperature routinely changes during the day. It’s often lower in the morning and increases in the evening. It can also fluctuate when your child engages in physical activity.
In healthy children, a fever usually does not indicate a serious problem, it can actually be a good thing because a fever is often the body’s way of fighting infection. Fevers don’t always cause harm, and it doesn’t always need to be treated.
Some fevers, however, are an indication of another problem to be addressed. Some fevers are caused by infection or illness. When there is an infection, a fever may stimulate natural defense mechanisms.
Fevers in infants
Infants, especially newborns, can get a fever from overdressing—that is, if they’re bundled up too much, or if they’re in a warm environment. Infants can’t regulate their body temperature as well as older children.
Since a fever can indicate something more serious in a baby, it’s important to take them to the doctor to get checked.
Immunizations and teething
Vaccinations can sometimes bring on a low-grade fever in babies and children. Teething can also cause a rise in body temperature, however if the fever is over 100 degrees, teething is probably not the cause.
When a fever is cause for concern
When determining how serious your child’s fever is, doctors will assess not only the child’s temperature, but also his or her overall condition. If your child’s temperature is under 102°, medicine is probably unnecessary unless the child is extremely uncomfortable. However, if you have an infant 3 months old or younger and his rectal temperature is over 100.4°, head to urgent care or the emergency room immediately; even a low fever can indicate serious infection in babies.
For children between 3 months and 3 years old with a fever of 102.2° or higher, call your doctor or nurse hotline to seek advice. As for children older than 3, consider their behavior and level of activity. Observing your child’s behavior should tell you whether the fever is caused by a minor illness or whether you should take them to the doctor or urgent care center. If your child still wants to play, is eating and drinking normally, is alert and smiling, has a normal skin color, and looks better when their temperature comes down, then the illness is probably not serious.
Stay home or go to urgent care?
A fever is not always a cause for concern. The action you take should depend on your child’s age, temperature, and overall condition. If you’re unsure, a visit to urgent care can set your mind at ease—even if it turns out to be nothing serious.