It’s 3 a.m. and your little one is up with a fever. Should you dare call the doctor in the wee hours of the night? Should you treat the fever with medicine?
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably wrestled with these questions more times than you’d like to admit. It’s often difficult to know which next steps to take, especially if your child is too young to tell you what’s wrong.
Although it can be frightening when a child’s temperature rises, fever itself causes no harm and can actually be a good thing.
“Not all fevers are bad,” said Dr. Emma Raizman, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Medina. “Fevers can be a sign of an illness, and can be part of the body’s way of fighting infection by making the body temperature inhospitable to certain viruses and bacteria.”
A fever is defined as 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and not all of them need to be treated in toddlers and older children. (For infants under 3 months of age with any fever, call your doctor’s office or seek medical attention.) Rest and plenty of fluids often is enough to manage a fever.
However, if your child is uncomfortable, Dr. Raizman says it’s okay to treat the fever with Ibuprofen (for kids 6 months and older) or Tylenol.
Though it’s best to err on the side of caution, there are many instances when parents don’t need to call their pediatrician for a fever, especially if your child appears well, and is eating and drinking. However, some symptoms warrant the call.
Dr. Raizman encourages parents to use their best judgment first and foremost to determine whether to call the pediatrician. After that, use this checklist as a guide.
- Your child has a temperature (rectal, oral, axillary) of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and you’re concerned.
- She has had a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or above that’s stuck around for 5 days or more.
- She seems to be really out of it, lethargic, is super drowsy or has trouble breathing, such as rapid breathing or panting. If your child has a seizure, seek medical attention immediately.
- She has other symptoms that may indicate a bacterial infection, such as a sore throat, headache, ear pain, bad cough, a rash, or a lot of vomiting or diarrhea (especially if she’s not drinking or urinating well).
- She looks very ill, is very irritable and your parent intuition says something is just not right no matter what her temperature is.
If you need to seek medical attention right away for your child and the doctor’s office is closed, find out whether the urgent care or emergency room is best.