What Parents Need to Know about a Fever

It can be frightening when your child wakes up in the middle of the night with a fever, but fever is actually an important part of the body’s immune system. It is almost always a sign that the body is responding to and fighting off a bacterial or viral infection.

1 | Fevers Fight Illness

Bacteria and viruses that cause illness prefer to live at usual body temperature. Therefore, the body increases its temperature to create a more hostile environment for the bacteria or virus causing the infection. Higher body temperatures weaken the infectious agent and help the body’s immune system more effectively fight off the infection. The body raises temperature through shivering, limiting blood flow to hands and feet, and increasing energy use inside the body.

2| Should Parents Wait to Treat a Fever?

Because fever is an important part of the body’s immune system, parents do not need to immediately treat a low grade fever below 38 degrees. Parents should really treat the child instead of the fever, so if a child is fussy, acts weak or tired, or feels uncomfortable, parents should take steps to help him or her feel better.

It’s important to remember that treating a fever does not treat the underlying infection and that giving a child fever-reducing medication is only a temporary measure that will decrease a child’s body temperature. The fever will return once the medication wears off until the body has successfully fought off the illness.

3 | How to Make Children More Comfortable

While fever is important in helping your child fight off an infection, it can make children feel uncomfortable. To treat the fever and make children feel more comfortable, parents can:

  • Encourage plenty of fluids and rest: Dehydration is one of the main risks for children with a fever so parents need to ensure that the child is drinking adequate amounts of fluid.
  • Use fever-reducing medications: Fever-reducing medications such as ibuprofen, mefenamic acid or paracetamol are probably the most effective and safest way to treat a fever, but it is important for parents to give the correct dose of medication at the correct time interval. Correct dosing and schedule can be found on the packaging for the medication or can be obtained from the child’s Paediatrician. Fever-reducing medications work by decreasing the signals to raise body temperature and, therefore, reduce the work the body would be doing to raise temperature.
  • Non medicinal ways to reduce fever: You can lower the temperature by taking off excess clothes to expose the body to cooler temperature in the room. You can lower the room temperature by opening the windows, switching on a fan or air conditioner. Tepid sponging or lukewarm water bath can lower the core temperature as the body cools down with the water.

4 | Can a High Fever Cause Brain Damage?

Fever can be a sign of a serious infection that can cause damage to the brain or other organs, but that damage is usually caused by the infection and not by the fever. Febrile convulsions are common in children between the ages of 9 months to 6 years and can occur due to extremely high fever or as the body temperature rises. If you child has a tendency to develop febrile seizures, they will require more careful monitoring and early treatment for fever. If your child had a febrile seizure, they should visit their Paediatrician or local Emergency Department. Febrile seizures are not harmful and the child will recover completely except when persistent for more than 30 minutes or complicated by aspiration or vomits. 1% of children with febrile seizures develops complicated seizures and epilepsy which will require treatment.

5 | When to Visit Your Child’s Paediatrician or a Local Emergency Department

Any child with a fever, who doesn’t improve after being given a fever-reducing medication, not drinking liquids, not easily awoken, or acting strangely, should be seen by a doctor immediately. If a child aged 6-12 months is acting well, drinking normally, and comfortable (with or without fever-reducing medications), parents can monitor them for 24 hours before deciding to visit the paediatrician and 48 hours for older children.

Babies do not have well-developed immune systems and are at risk for serious bacterial infections. Any baby that is younger than 2 months of age with a temperature higher than 38 degrees should see their Paediatrician as soon as possible.

If an infant is 6 months old, with a temperature more than 38°C and acting well, parents can call their child’s paediatrician to decide whether the child needs to be seen immediately.

6 | Talk to Your Child’s Paediatrician

The most important tip is to talk to your child’s paediatrician to learn how to set your own guidelines on how to treat your child’s fever and when to take them to see a paediatrician.