The Best Way to Treat A Child’s Fever

If your child’s temperature was 100.3 degrees, would you consider that a fever? Would you wake him or her to administer an anti-fever medication? If you answered yes to both questions, you have a lot of company. You are also wrong.

A study published in the March issue of the Journal Pediatrics found that roughly half of all parents erroneously believe a body temperature of less than 100.4 degrees is a fever and about 85 percent say they would wake a sleeping child to give medication to lower his temperature. Another one-quarter said they would give OTC anti-fever medicines to kids with temperatures below 100 degrees.

Not only does the study suggest that Dr. Mom and Dr. Dad overreact when they think their kids have a fever, but a frightening 50 percent of parents give the wrong dose of medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen for their child’s weight, which could result in excessive doses that might be harmful. Instead, parents should focus more on their child’s comfort than solely the thermometer reading.

Use these tips to prevent the flu at school.

While it’s alarming when your little one has a fever—I’ll never forget how frightened I was when one of my daughters spiked a temperature of 105 degrees—most of the time fever is not serious. After all, a fever is the body’s natural way of battling infections. When viruses or bacteria attack, white blood cells come to rescue by producing interleukin, a hormone that raises body temperature. In effect, the heat helps kill germs that are making your child sick.

Here’s what you should know about treating a child’s fever.

How to take a temperature:

Most pediatricians consider a rectal temperature to be the gold standard in accuracy in kids, while armpit temperatures and pacifier thermometers are the least reliable. Body temperature varies according to time of day and is lowest in the morning and early evening. To qualify as a fever, the rectal thermometer reading must be 100.4 or above.

Moms guide healthcare decisions for the entire family.

When to call the doctor:

Seek medical help if a baby younger than three months has a rectal temperature of 104.4 or higher, if there are no other symptoms, or if a baby this age has a temperature below 97 F. In kids this young, even a mild fever or below normal temperature may indicate a serious infection. Also alert the pediatrician if a baby older than three months has a temperature of 102 or higher, if a child under two has a fever for more than one day, or an older child has a fever for longer than three days. Contact your MD about any symptom that concerns you, regardless of what your child’s temperature is.

Treating a fever without medication:

Medication usually isn’t necessary for mild fevers. Dress your child in a light, single layer of clothing when indoors and use minimal bedcovers. A sponge bath with lukewarm water helps quell a fever. The main goal should be keeping your child comfortable—not reducing the temperature to normal, the Pediatrics report emphasizes. Also make sure your child is well hydrated. Fruit juice, popsicles, soup and Jello are all choices with kid-appeal.

Fuel your child's body with the right foods.

Which OTC medications work:

Give children’s versions of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or if your child is over six months of age, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) according to instructions on the package. Many parents don’t realize that dosing should be based on weight, not age. Combining the two products can be more effective than using just one of them. Consult the pediatrician before doing so, since correct dosing can be a bit complicated. Without medical guidance, a combined dose may contribute to unsafe use of these drugs, the report cautions.

What not to do:

Never give kids aspirin, which has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal disorder. Avoid use of rubbing alcohol because it can be absorbed through the skin. Do not give adult medications to kids even if you try to adjust the dosage. Also avoid cold baths or ice to lower temperature. These cool the skin, then causing shivering, which in turn boosts temperature. Nor is it necessary to wake up kids to give anti-fever medications. Above all, don’t panic—even if your child spikes a fever high enough to trigger a seizure (a relatively infrequent problem), it’s still extremely unlikely to do any lasting harm. Most kids bounce back from a fever in a day or two. With a healthy dose of TLC, your child should soon be well again.

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