Back to School: Kids’ fevers - when to take action

Rose Green-Flores
Lake Regional Public Relations Specialist
Medication for a fever is generally not necessary unless your child is uncomfortable or has a history of convulsions.

When your child experiences a fever, it is natural to feel alarmed and uncertain of what to do next. Just remember: A fever isn’t always serious, but it should always be monitored.

“Every child is going to experience a fever,” said Lake Regional Pediatrician Jason Hagely, M.D., who cares for patients in Eldon and Iberia. “A fever is usually the body’s response to an infection or illness –– the body turns up the heat to make it a less desirable host for germs. It can be a good sign, but you still need to know how to treat a fever properly and when to seek medical care.”

Choosing a Thermometer

There are multiple types of digital thermometers, so always follow the instructions that came with the device. While rectal thermometers are the most accurate, many pediatricians only recommend using these at doctor offices and emergency rooms. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), forehead thermometers are the next most accurate, and they can be used on children of any age. Ear thermometers can be used on children six months of age and older, and oral temperatures can be taken once your child is four years.

Never use a mercury thermometer.

Treating a Fever at Home

Medication for a fever is generally not necessary unless your child is uncomfortable or has a history of convulsions. If your child is eating and drinking well, sleeping well, or still interested in playing, then the illness is probably not serious.

“You can address fever by dressing your child in something comfortably cool and keep cool air moving throughout their room,” Dr. Hagely said. “They don’t have to stay in bed, but they shouldn’t overexert themselves. Keep them well hydrated with water, diluted juices or an electrolyte solution. A warm sponge bath can also be beneficial.”

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are safe and effective medicines that can decrease your child’s fever and improve their comfort. According to the AAP, do not use acetaminophen under 12 weeks of age unless directed by your pediatrician and ibuprofen should only be used for children older than six months. 

Lake Regional Pediatrician Jason Hagely, M.D.

“Before giving your child any medication, read the label to ensure you are giving the correct dosage for their age and weight,” Dr. Hagely said. “Never use aspirin to treat your child’s fever because it can cause a very serious liver disease called Reye syndrome.”

When to Seek Medical Help

Sometimes a fever can warrant a trip to your child’s pediatrician if it is high enough or accompanied by other symptoms. The AAP recommends calling your doctor if your child is younger than 12 weeks and has a temperature of 100.4°F or higher or if the fever has risen above 104°F for a child of any age. Also, call if the fever has persisted for more than 24 hours in a child two or younger or more than 72 hours in a child older than two.

Additionally, seek medical care if your child has a fever along with:

• Repeated vomiting or diarrhea

• Seizures

• Skin rash

• Trouble breathing

• Unusually drowsy

• Whimpering or very fussy

• Stiff neck

• Severe headache

• Severe sore throat

• Severe ear pain

• Changes in behavior

“Parents sometimes wait to medicate their child because they want us ‘to see they have a fever,’” Dr. Hagely said. “That isn’t necessary –– start treatment at home.”

And never hesitate to seek help.

“If you are uncertain what a fever might mean or your child is acting ill, regardless if they have a fever, you should always call their doctor for advice,” Dr. Hagely said.

Since fever is a symptom of COVID-19, discuss with your child’s health care provider whether they need to be tested. Protect children from getting and spreading COVID-19 by following recommended safety measures. COVID-19 vaccines are available to anyone 12 and older. The vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective, and the AAP encourages parents to consider this protection for their children.

If you need to find a doctor for your child, visit Select “family medicine” or “pediatrician” in the specialty field.

This is an ongoing series of articles to help parents and children get ready to return to classes. Watch for more articles to appear in the Lake Sun.