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Your child’s fever: What’s normal, what’s not

» How warm is too warm?

» Lowering the temperature

» When to get help

Top temperature takers

Consider these options when choosing a thermometer:

  • Rectal. You’ll get the most accurate reading rectally (in your child’s bottom).
  • Oral. Older kids can hold a thermometer under their tongues, but this can be tricky with young children.
  • Axillary. You can sometimes get a good reading by placing a thermometer under your child’s arm.
  • Tympanic. These thermometers go into a child’s ear, but you need to place them properly for a precise reading.

Opt for a digital thermometer. Don’t use mercury thermometers; the mercury in them can be hazardous. And don’t take your child’s temperature right after bathtime, or after hot food or liquid has been consumed; it can impact the reading.

Focus on febrile seizures

A febrile seizure is a scary, yet not uncommon, side effect of fever in children ages 6 months to 5 years. About one in 25 children will experience at least one febrile seizure in their lifetime. The seizures are full-body convulsions that typically last only one or two minutes, though some can last for more than 15 minutes. Your child may be unresponsive, twitch, stiffen or roll his or her eyes. Febrile seizures usually aren’t serious, but always report them to your child’s pediatrician.

Your child’s temperature can rise for all sorts of reasons—playing outside on a hot day and even having just taken a warm bath. But fever can also indicate an infection. So how do you know when to worry and when to play it cool? The following guidelines can help you decide when to call the doctor and when to depend on home remedies to ensure your child’s comfort.

How warm is too warm?

A normal body temperature is about 98.6 F when taken by mouth and 99.6 F when taken rectally. Although fevers can be worrisome, they’re actually beneficial as they signal that the immune system is doing its job to fight infection. In fact, not all fevers require treatment. In most cases of low-grade fevers, you can let them run their course as long as your child isn’t an infant and you can keep him or her hydrated and comfortable.

Lowering the temperature

If your child has a fever and is achy or fussy, you may want to try an over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Your pediatrician can help decide which is best for your child. Follow dosing instructions carefully and don’t exceed the maximum dose over a 24-hour period.

The following measures may help reduce your child’s fever and make him or her more comfortable:

  • Offer a lukewarm bath. But be careful: A bath that’s too hot can increase body temperature, and one that’s too cool may be uncomfortable.
  • Dress your child in lightweight clothing. This will allow body heat to escape.
  • Use a light blanket to help ease chills. After chills subside, remove the covering to avoid trapping in body heat.
  • Keep your child hydrated with sips of water, juice, broth or fluid-replacement drinks such as Pedialyte. You can offer ice pops and fruit-flavored gelatin, too.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and fluids, and keep him or her home from school or day care. That way your child can focus on getting better and won’t risk getting other children sick.

When to get help

Although most fevers aren’t an emergency, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends calling the doctor if your child:

  • is younger than 4 months and has even a slight fever
  • is lethargic or unresponsive, refuses to eat or has a rash or trouble breathing
  • shows signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth, sunken soft spot or significantly fewer wet diapers
  • has the fever for more than a few days
  • has a febrile seizure (a usually harmless convulsion brought on by fever; see above box).


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