fever in children: temperature being tested

Fever in Children

A high temperature, commonly known as a fever, is when the temperature of the body rises above the normal core temperature – usually around 37.5º to 38º for kids. When little ones have a high temperature it can be very distressing, for them and for you.

A fever is generally a sign that the body is fighting a viral or bacterial infection. In many cases they are not directly harmful to your child, but they do need to be monitored. Knowing what to look for and how to act is the best way to bring down a fever without causing complications and further discomfort.

Fever symptoms

Aside from being hotter to the touch, if your little one is showing any combination of the following signs, they may have a fever:

• Shivering
• Sweating
• Weakness

In more severe cases, fever can also result in headache, loss of appetite, and muscle aches. In these instances, taking their temperature with a thermometer to make sure it doesn’t escalate, and encouraging hydration are the best first steps.

Taking your child’s temperature

There are two optimal areas to use a thermometer – under the arm and under the tongue. Because fevers cause discomfort, you may find that one area is easier than the other with you child. In either case, consulting the specific instructions for your thermometer, regarding technique and time spans, will ensure an accurate reading.

Tympanic thermometers are used in your child’s ear. Although they are quick (taking around one second to present a reading) they are generally less accurate than traditional thermometers. The same can be said for strip thermometers which measure the temperature of the skin’s surface.

Bringing down a high temperature

The best way to bring down a kids temperature is to make sure they are comfortable. This means dressing them lightly enough so that they are not drenched in sweat, but with enough coverage to prevent shivering. It may take some adjustments.

Here are some tips for reducing fever in children:

Hydration – encourage frequent sipping of cool water. When they are ready, offer your little one ice and move them on to cool food, such as yoghurt, to give them enough strength to fight their infection.
Sponging – place a dampened cloth on your child’s forehead. It may heat up pretty quickly, so keep checking and cooling it.
Bathing – a lukewarm (not cold) bath is a great way to ease your child’s core temperature down. It may take some convincing to get them in there, but it’s worth it if it doesn’t cause them too much distress to hop in.
Fanning – a hand or electric fan to push some cool air onto your child will help to make them feel more comfortable. This can dehydrate them by drying out the air though, so be sure to keep up the fluids if you are using this method.
Resting – while it may seem impossible, if you can help your child to rest while they are fighting a fever, it will give them the best chance of a speedy recovery.

In some cases, the use of paracetamol may be suggested as a way to reduce a fever. It can also be of assistance to treat associated symptoms, such as a sore throat. If you feel that this is a suitable step, it is important to follow the dosage directions and consult a healthcare professional if symptoms persist for more than two days.

When to see a doctor

Monitoring temperature and symptoms is a great idea with toddler fevers. In most cases, they will resolve themselves in time. If your child experiences any of the following, a healthcare professional should be consulted:

• A fever lasting longer than 48 hours
• A temperature exceeding 40ºC and rising
• Prolonged headache
• Stiffness of the neck and joints
• Skin rashes, vomiting or diarrhoea
• A rapid heart rate
• Muscle spasms or convulsions
• Dizziness, drowsiness or confusion
• Trouble breathing

For more information see Parenting advice or Kids Health.