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Fever Facts and Myths

Defining a Fever

Fevers are a body temperature of 100.4 F or higher. 

There are one of our body's normal defense responses. 

Fevers are a symptom, not a disease, and can happen whenever a child gets a new infection.

Girl at the Pediatrician

Fever Phobia

Parents often think fever will hurt their child. 

In fact, fevers are harmless and often helpful. Here are some myths that cause fever phobia:

Fever Myths

- All fevers are bad for children

- Fevers can cause brain damage.

- Fever can cause seizures in anyone.

- If the fever is high, the cause is serious. 

- All fever need to be treated with fever medicine. 

- Without treatment, fevers will keep going higher.

- If you can't "break the fever," the cause is serious.

- Treating the fever will make the infection go away faster. 

Little Boy Playing Doctor
Doctor with Infant

Facts About Fevers for Parents

Fevers are temperatures 100.4 F or higher

Temperatures below 100.4 F are normal. They are not a fever. The body temperature normally goes up during the day and comes down during the night. 

Fevers 100.4 to 102 F are low grade fevers. Many doctors and nurses call them "good fevers"

Fever helps the body fight infections. It turns on the body's immune system. Fevers between 100 and 104 F actually help sick children get better.

High fevers are 104 F or higher. While we call them "high", they are not harmful.

 

Most fevers with infections stay below 104 F (40 C). Reason: the brain has a thermostat that keeps the body at the best temperature to fight the germs. They sometimes go to 105 F (40.6 C), but that temp is also harmless.

Fevers from infections don't cause "brain damage." Only fevers above 108° F (42°C) can cause brain damage.

 

Seizures triggered by fever are uncommon. Only 4% of children can have a seizure from fever. While these seizures are scary to watch, they stop within 5 minutes. And they don't cause any permanent harm, such as learning problems or seizures without fever.

Baby Stethoscope
Doctor High Five

Most fevers with viral infections last 2 or 3 days. The fever will go away and not return once the body overpowers the virus. Most often, this is day 3 or 4. When using fever medicines, expect the fever to keep coming back after the medicine wears off. That's normal.

 

If your child is well and feels warm to touch, they probably don't have a fever. Children can feel warm for many reasons. 

 

If your child acts sick and feels warm to touch, they probably have a fever. If you want to be sure, take their temperature. But you don't need to keep taking it.

 

Summary: Look at your child, not the thermometer. How your child looks is what's important. The exact temperature number is not. If your child looks or acts very sick, the cause is more likely to be serious. But the level of fever tells us very little. Viruses and bacteria can both cause high fevers.

Treating A Fever

Here are some general guidelines:

Fevers only need to be treated if they cause discomfort. Most fevers don't cause discomfort until they go above 103 F. Discomfort at a lower fever is probably due to some pain (such as from a sore throat).

Start medicines for fevers higher than 102 F. Exception: for children who had a febrile seizure, you can treat all fevers.

Treat fevers with one fever medicine. Use either acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen, in the correct dosage. Don't give both fever medicines together. Reason: it is not needed. Remember, fever is helping your child's body fight the infection.

With treatment, most fevers come down about 2 degrees F. They often don't come down to normal. That's fine. When the fever medicine wears off., expect the fever to go up again. That's also normal.

 

If your child's doctor tells you to treat fevers differently, follow their advice.

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Copyright 2000-2019 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC Author: Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP