Feeling a child’s hot forehead and then seeing 102, 103 or 104 on the thermometer is scary for parents. But, it’s no cause for panic. Most fevers are nothing to worry about; some don’t even require treatment.
“It’s important to remember that fever is a natural response to infection,” said Shari L. Neill, M.D., M.S., FAAP, a pediatrician with Lake Regional Clinic - Camdenton. “Your body increases its internal temperature as a way of fighting off infection, so many times we recommend not treating a fever at all.”
Although the average body temperature is 98.6°F, temperatures between 97° and 99° are considered to be normal. That’s why most schools don’t require children to stay home until their temperatures reach 100°.
When checking a child’s temperature, parents should be sure to follow the instructions that came with their thermometers to get accurate readings.
“Oral and ear temperatures can be very accurate,” Dr. Neill said. “Armpit readings are typically accurate within a half of a degree, but it takes a minute to two minutes to get a reading under the arm.”
Wand-style thermometers, the kind placed on a child’s temple or swiped across the forehead, can be a good option for squirmy little ones. “Any options that can read fairly quickly are going to be better when the child will be moving around a lot,” Dr. Neill said.
When deciding how to respond to a fever, parents need to consider more than just the temperature reading alone. The child’s overall condition also needs to be taken into account.
Fevers below 102°F in children who are older than 3 months and who do not have other distressing symptoms usually do not require treatment. (Before the age of 3 months, any fever of 100°F or higher is reason to seek medical care.)
“In general, we recommend parents seek medical care if the child is showing symptoms that are quite concerning, such as fever with a seizure, breathing faster than normal, being very lethargic, not drinking or just not acting like themselves,” Dr. Neill said. “If the fever reaches 102°F, we want parents to take note and pay close attention to the child.”
Look Out for Dehydration
One of the most common complications of fever is dehydration. It is a particular risk when the fever happens with diarrhea and vomiting. Parents should encourage children with fevers to drink often, and parents should be on the lookout for the following signs and symptoms of dehydration.
Infants and Young Children
- Dry mouth and tongue
- No tears when crying
- No wet diapers for three hours
- Sunken eyes, cheeks
- Sunken soft spot on top of skull
- Listlessness or irritability
- Less frequent urination
- Dark-colored urine
“If you are concerned about your child, it’s always OK to call your doctor or bring the child in for care,” Dr. Neill said. “That’s why we are here — to assess patients and make sure they receive the treatment they need.”
To make an appointment with Dr. Neill, call Lake Regional Clinic – Camdenton at 573-364-5624. To find a pediatrician or family medicine provider at any of Lake Regional’s seven primary clinics, visit www.lakeregional.com/physicians.