Fevers are quite common in young children and are usually mild, but sometimes the causes of a fever will require urgent attention, even in most cases they can be managed at home.
What is a fever?
A fever is a temperature of 38°C or higher and it is one of the ways the body fights infection. The fever can rise very quickly or it can develop slowly, over few days. If your child’s face feels hot to the touch and they look red or flushed, then they may have a fever. You can check their temperature with a thermometer.
A normal temperature in children is 36.5°C to 37°C although it depends on the person, their age, the time of day, what they have been doing and at which part of the body you take the temperature.
What causes fever in children?
Infections are by far the most common cause of fever in children. Most of the infections are caused by viruses, which are responsible for colds, upper respiratory infections, and the common infectious diseases of childhood. These infections don’t last long and usually don’t need to be treated.
Some infections are caused by bacteria and need treatment with antibiotics. These include certain ear and throat infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, blood infections and meningitis. If it isn’t treated with antibiotics, this infection can lead to rheumatic fever or heart damage.
Fever symptoms and signs
Fever in itself is rarely harmful. But the high temperature might make your child feel uncomfortable – they might have chills or be shivering when their temperature is rising, and they might sweat when it’s falling. Sometimes they might become mildly dehydrated if they’re losing a lot of fluid from the fever and not replacing it.
How to treat a child with a fever?
Generally, children handle fever well. However, if your child has a fever, here are some ways to make them more comfortable:
Dress them in light clothing, or even undress them to their nappy or singlet and pants.
Cover them with a sheet if they are shivering.
Keep the room at a comfortable temperature by adjusting the heating or opening a window.
Give them plenty of cool, clear fluids such as water or weak tea, lemonade or juice to drink. Try to get them to drink little and often.
When should you take a child with a fever to the doctor?
Some symptoms that appear when a child has a raised temperature require urgent attention and ask for an ambulance. These symptoms can include the child:
- not responding to your voice or being lethargic
- having difficulty breathing
- having a seizure or losing consciousness
- getting headaches
You should also contact your doctor urgently if your child:
- is under 3 months of age and has a temperature of 38°C or above
- is between 3 and 6 months of age and has a temperature of 39°C or above
- is over 6 months and shows other signs of being unwell