It can be alarming when your child’s temperature soars, but don’t panic just yet. Because kids’ immune systems are not fully developed yet, it’s not uncommon for kids to experience fever on higher frequency than adults do. What should you do when your child develops a fever? Should you consult a doctor straight away? Can you care for your child at home? We answer your burning questions.
What’s causing my child’s fever?
A fever is a natural response that the body has when fighting underlying infections. The spiking temperature helps to slow down viruses and bacteria growth, and enhance production of white blood cells that are responsible for destroying these harmful invaders.
For young children, fevers are commonly caused by viral infections such as the flu. Having a fever is generally a good sign that the immune system is fighting it off, but what action you take depends on how old your child is, and how high the temperature is. It is important to note that the height of fever has no correlation to the severity of the child’s illness.
Is it a fever?
There are many ways to measure your child’s temperature. Ensure that your thermometer is reliable. Your child has a fever if they measure:
- Rectal, ear or temporal artery temperature: 38 C or higher
- Oral temperature: 37.5 C or higher
- Underarm temperature: 37 C or higher
When should I bring my child to the doctor?
Feverish infants below three months old should be brought to the doctor – their immune systems have yet to be fully developed and this leaves them vulnerable to potentially life-threatening infections.
For children aged six months and above, persistent fevers that exceed four to five days warrant a visit to the doctor. Pay attention to signs such as refusal of fluids, persistent diarrhoea/vomiting, dehydration (poor urine output, crying without tears, lethargy), painful urination, or developing of rashes or oral ulcers. Additionally, seek medical attention if your child complains of a sore throat, earache, or pain while peeing – these signal possible strep throat, ear infection or urinary tract infection, which may need to be treated with antibiotics.
Seek emergency care if your child shows these signs:
- Lethargy and difficulty walking
- Rash outbreaks or purple bruise-like spots
- Headache and stiff neck
- Blue lips, tongue or nails
- Breathing difficulties
- Leaning forward and drooling
- If your infant’s soft spot on the head bulges out or appears sunken inwards
How can I treat my child at home?
Dress your child in lightweight clothing and cover him with a light blanket. Ensure that your child is not over wrapped in heavy and thick clothing as it can prevent body heat from escaping, and increase temperature.
Sponge baths using cold water, ice packs or alcohol (which can cause poisoning when absorbed through skin), is not recommended. To help your child feel more comfortable, use a towel soaked in room temperature water and sponge the forehead, nape of neck, armpits and groin.
Offer plenty of fluids, such as water, soup, and even popsicles to avoid dehydration. Your child should not consume drinks containing caffeine, including soda and tea.
Make sure your child gets ample rest. They do not have to stay in bed all day, but an unwell child should stick to minimal activity.
What medication can I give?
If your kid is feeling uncomfortable or fussing, parents can use either ibuprofen or paracetamol for fever relief, provided the child is older than six months, still active and drinking well. These medications do not treat the cause of the fever, and will only bring temperature down temporarily.
- Use it every four to six hours if your child has a fever
- Don’t use it in infants less than three months unless instructed by your doctor
- Usually used for high fevers above 38.5 C
- Can be used one to two hours after paracetamol for persistent fevers
- To be used every six to eight hours
- Avoid administering to infants less than one year old unless otherwise instructed by your doctor.
It is best to keep your unwell child away from school or childcare till they recover.