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5 Things to You Need to Know About Fever in Children

By Contributor ; Updated August 14, 2017

What Temperature is Considered a Fever?

There is not a specific temperature that is considered a fever, but one is typically defined by an oral temperature over 99.5 degrees F (37.5 degrees C), ear and rectal temperatures above 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C) and axillary temperature above 100 degrees F (37.8 degrees C).

What Are the Causes of Fever?

Most fevers in children are a response to an infection caused by a virus or bacterium, but other triggers include medicines, malignancies and heat illness. When the body's immune system detects an infectious invader, it responds with chemical messengers that travel to the brain, in particular the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus in turn causes the body temperature to rise.

What Are the Proper Ways to Take a Temperature?

The American Academy of Pediatrics no longer endorses the use of mercury-containing glass thermometers due to the danger of mercury poisoning should they break. Electronic digital probes are considered the most accurate, and can be used in the mouth, rectum or armpit. Thermometers should be cleaned with cool, soapy water before use.

When taking an oral temperature, the thermometer should be placed under the tongue and held in place with the lips for 3 minutes or until the device indicator beeps. A rectal temperature should only be used on very small children who are unable to hold the thermometer in the mouth. A rectal temperature requires placement of the thermometer ½ to 1 inch within the anal opening. It is very important that the child be held still so the thermometer does not move. Leave the probe in place for 3 minutes or until the device beeps.

An axillary temperature is taken with the probe placed in the armpit, with the arm held down against the body for 5 minutes or until the device beeps.

Ear thermometers are also available, but are only accurate if used correctly. They should not be used on children under the age of 6 months. Pull the outer ear upwards and back, and place the ear probe into the canal until it beeps. See the thermometer package directions for more specific instructions.

When Should I Seek Medical Care for a Child With a Fever?

Seek medical care for any infant under 3 months who has a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or 38 degrees C, or any child over the age of 3 months who has a fever greater than or equal to 100.4 degrees F for 3 consecutive days. Fevers greater than 102 degrees F or 38.9 degrees C also warrant evaluation by a medical provider, and any child who has a febrile seizure, a fever with a new rash or a chronic medical illness should be seen immediately.

Fevers typically do not require treatment unless the child has a history of febrile seizures or an underlying chronic medical problem. A fever of less than 102 degrees F in a child over the age of 3 months who is acting normally does not necessarily warrant treatment, but if a parent has any concerns or doubts, she should contact her child's physician.

What Are the Best Treatments for Fever?

The best treatments for fever are over-the-counter analgesics, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. These medications should be dosed by weight, which can determined by the child's health-care provider. Other non-medicinal treatments include sponge baths with a cool, damp cloth. Children with fevers should also increase their fluid intake, get plenty of rest and remain home until the fever has resolved for 24 hours.

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