As a parent, nothing’s more precious than your child. So, if your little one is exhibiting signs and symptoms of a high temperature, has a warm forehead, or flushed cheeks, your natural reaction might be to panic.
Don’t! Calling the doctor might be an over-reaction.
It’s normal for your baby’s temperature to fluctuate for various reasons: from physical exertion, taking a warm bath, fighting allergies, or even digestion and heightened metabolism. Even the time of day can have an impact since body temperatures tend to rise in the afternoon and early evening.
If your child does have a feverish temperature – a rectal temperature of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or greater, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) – it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it may be a key indicator the immune system is fighting a more serious infection.
So, what should you do? Do you call your doctor, visit an urgent care, maybe grab medication? This depends on your baby’s age and temperature reading, as well as other symptoms that accompany a raised temperature. Use the chart below to help assess your child’s situation.
Infant & Toddler Fever Chart
Consider Potential Causes
It’s important to remember a fever is not itself an illness. Instead, it’s a symptom of another underlying issue. In most cases, the issue is probably an infection; however, depending on what type of infection it is or whether it’s another problem will determine the course of treatment. Some of the most common causes are:
- Viral Infection – Viruses like an intestinal infection, the cold or flu, or chickenpox can cause your baby to develop a fever as a natural response to fighting off infection. Since viruses are not bacterial in nature, antibiotics will, unfortunately, have no effect.
- Bacterial Infection – While less typical than viral fevers, bacterial fevers can be a much more serious infection. Ear and throat infections, a urinary tract infection, bacterial pneumonia, or bacterial meningitis require antibiotics to prevent additional health complications.
- Over Bundling – Because they can’t regulate their bodies as well as older kids, infants – particularly newborns – can get fevers if they’re overdressed or in a warm environment. Make sure your baby is not over bundled with extra blankets or clothes, causing a rise in body temperature. Also, check to see that his or her room is comfortable – not too hot or cold.
- Immunization – If your child received a vaccination in the past 24 hours, he or she might experience a low-grade fever. This should be nothing to worry about, and appropriate dosages of infants’ or children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to alleviate pain. But, if the fever persists past 48 hours, it’s advisable to call your doctor or visit an urgent care center.
- Teething – It’s possible for your infant to develop a slight rise in temperature because of new teeth coming in. Rubbing your child’s teeth or using a teething ring can help. If your baby’s teething fever lasts longer than 2 days, seek medical advice.
Accurately Take Your Child’s Temperature Reading
To determine whether your child does indeed have a fever, it’s necessary to obtain the right temperature measurement – and this starts with having the right instrument. Regardless of your baby’s age, a digital multiuse thermometer is recommended.
Not only is a digital thermometer inexpensive and easy to use, it’s also the most reliable temperature-taking instrument.
Tympanic (ear) or temporal (forehead) thermometers aren’t as precise because they can be skewed by external temperatures, and there’s still little evidence to show that pacifier thermometers or forehead strips are as exact as digital rectal and armpit readings. Plus, mercury thermometers should be avoided altogether. Were one to break, it would expose your child to its toxic effects.
There are several ways to take your child’s temperature with a digital thermometer. Rectal thermometers are recommended, since they give the most accurate readings, especially for babies and toddlers under 2 years old. However, because these aren’t fun for you or your baby, it might be easier to get an armpit reading, or an oral reading after your child is four or five and can hold a thermometer under his or her tongue.
Reduce Fever Discomfort at Home
Let’s say your little one is showing signs of a fever and you take his or her temperature. Just because your thermometer reads 102ºF, it shouldn’t be cause for alarm. What some parents don’t know is that a higher temperature reading doesn’t necessarily correlate to a sicker child.
If your baby is acting normal, is still interested in playing, and is still alert, the illness is probably not serious. In addition, don’t worry too much if he or she doesn’t have an appetite. As long as your child’s drinking and urinating normally, not eating as much, as usual, is common with infections that cause fever. As mentioned previously, a higher temperature could indicate the body’s attempt to fight infection.
Should your child seem uncomfortable or in pain, there are several things you can try to bring down your baby’s fever and help him or her feel better. Fever-reducing medicines such as ibuprofen (for babies over 6 months) and acetaminophen can provide some relief, but there are other baby fever treatment methods that can lower a temperature:
- Cold Compress – Placing a cool, wet washcloth on your child’s head can draw the fever out and help your baby rest.
- Fluids – To prevent dehydration and aid the body in cooling itself, give your child plenty of fluids, including water, clear soups, popsicles, or yogurt. If your baby is younger than 6 months, breast milk will hydrate and strengthen your little one’s immune system while fighting illness.
- – Use air conditioning or a fan on its low setting to keep your baby’s room at a comfortable temperature (70-74ºF). Also, try to avoid taking your child outside in the sun. Should you venture out, remain in the shade.
- Lightweight Clothing – Remove extra layers of clothing so your child can lose heat more easily through the skin. Since infants can’t regulate their temperature well, it’s harder to cool them down once overheated with multiple layers.
- Lukewarm Sponge Bath – Help your child feel more at ease with a relaxing sponge bath using lukewarm water. As water evaporates from his or her skin, it can bring the fever down temporarily. But avoid using cold water as this can cause your baby to shiver, raising his or her temperature.
Whatever you choose to do to alleviate discomfort, do not use aspirin as this can cause a potentially fatal illness called Reye’s syndrome.
Know When to Seek Urgent Care or Your Child’s Pediatrician
As the chart above indicates, the temperature that should prompt medical attention is dependent on your child’s age. The AAP recommends you contact your child’s regular pediatrician (when you can make your earliest appointment), visit your nearest urgent care center (after business hours) or the emergency room (when urgent care clinics are closed, typically weekdays after 8 pm and before 8 am) immediately, no matter what time it is.
Fevers in newborns are urgent because younger babies don’t show signs of severe infection as older babies do, and tests (such as blood or urine tests, a chest x-ray, and/or a spinal tap) might have to be performed to rule out more serious conditions.
You should also if your child is older than 3 months with a body temperature below the suggested temperature reading. For example, if your 1-year-old baby has a fever under 102ºF (38.9ºC) but he or she:
- Is too ill to drink fluids adequately or refuses to drink
- Has any signs of dehydration (dry mouth, can’t form tears, doesn’t pee as much, as usual, is less active)
- Has repeated diarrhea or vomiting
- Has a rash
- Has a sore throat or earache
- Has discomfort while peeing
- Has fevers that come and go over several days, even if they last only a few hours each time
- Has a complex medical condition, like heart problems, sickle cell anemia, cancer, cystic fibrosis, or diabetes
Be sure to skip urgent care and pediatric appointments and go straight to the emergency room immediately if your child has a fever and:
- Is extremely fussy or irritable
- Won’t stop crying and can’t be calmed down
- Is lethargic or can’t be awakened easily
- Has trouble breathing
- Has a blue tongue, lips, or nails
- Seems confused
- Can’t walk, is limp, or refuses to move
- Is leaning forward and drooling
- Has a stiff neck
- Has a severe headache
- Has abdominal pain
- Has a soft spot on the head that bulges out or becomes more sunken
- Has a new rash or bruise appeared (particularly purple in color)
- Has a seizure, also known as febrile convulsions
All Things Considered
If your child has a fever, he or she is not alone – infants and toddlers get fevers. While at the onset you might be worried, just know that your baby should be back to its normal, rambunctious self within a few days.
Rather than basing the severity of your child’s fever on just a thermometer reading, be aware of how your little one’s actions, as this can be a more telling sign of what is going on.
Plus, make sure not to mistake a fever for heatstroke, which is caused by external heat rather than an infection or internal condition. When a baby is left in a very hot place, like a closed car or warm beach in the summer, it can cause body temperature to rise to fatal levels.
You know your baby better than anyone. Whether you’re a new mom or a dad of four, if you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to contact your family doctor for an appointment or advice. Your local GoHealth Urgent Care Center has visit times available when you cannot wait for your primary care provider, for what could be days.
Because when your baby’s back to smiling and playing as usual, you’ll be able to relax once again – at least about their high-temperature fever!
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- Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in New York
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