Nov 5, 2019

5 min read

Fever in children - When to see a doctor?

Are you a parent worried about your child running a temperature? If you are like most parents in the world, this is probably a normal reaction to your child having a fever. However, a fever is no reason to panic. Fevers are your child’s natural response to infections. A big question that occupies a lot of parents is whether or not to take their children to the doctor when they have a fever. The reasonable part might know that your child’s temperature is probably nothing serious and you probably should just ride the situation out. But it might be asking for too much from a parent to be reasonable when it comes to their child’s health.

It is true that in most cases, fever in children is absolutely no reason to be alarmed about. However, it is important to weigh this against the fact that children, especially infants and toddlers have relatively weak immune systems that aren’t fully developed. This makes them easily susceptible to infections. Sometimes, these infections can be serious and need to be treated.

But what should you do, as a parent, when your child has a fever? Do you play it safe and rush to the doctor’s office on the off chance that your little one’s mild fever is something serious? Or do you listen to your voice of reason that says that it’s probably nothing and that you’re just worrying too much?

If you are an anxious parent and you are worried about your child’s temperature, here’s a handy guide to help you evaluate your child’s fever and decide whether or not they require medical attention.

What is Fever?

Let’s first establish what constitutes a fever. A body temperature of over 38°C [100.4°F] is commonly considered to be a fever. However, this is just a measure adopted for the sake of standardisation and it must be kept in mind that body temperature is a quantity that varies from individual to individual. It also undergoes fluctuations during the course of a day.

Does A Higher Temperature Indicate Severe Illness?

No, not necessarily. Children have very high metabolic rates. This means that all the normal chemical processes that are essential to sustain life, occur at a much higher rate in children. Because of this, it is common for children to have higher body temperatures, on average, than adults. This also means that children tend to run high fevers quite easily.

So, a child’s fever can’t be assessed based on temperature alone. A simple cold could leave your child feeling very hot to the touch and running a temperature of 39.5°C [103.1°F]; On the other hand, a serious infection could cause nothing more than a slight increase in temperature.

Therefore, it is important to look for the presence of other signs and symptoms in order to estimate the severity of your child’s fever and decide whether they need medical help. The simplest and most effective way to estimate the severity of your child’s fever is to assess their energy levels. Sometimes children may run a high temperature but if they are active and seem to be running around and playing as they usually do, in all likelihood, it’s nothing serious.

Although high fevers can be draining for your child, they are not actually dangerous. Many parents worry about whether a high fever could cause brain damage to their child. Such fears are mostly unfounded because fevers are a normal, physiological response that are mediated by the body. Because they are caused by the body, in most cases, the maximum temperature is capped and doesn’t rise above a certain point. Brain damage is much more likely when the increase in body temperature is caused externally, e.g. Leaving your child in a closed car on a sunny day.

When Should I Contact A Doctor?

  1. Babies tend to be regarded as a risk-group when it comes to fevers. Fevers in babies can be a sign of a serious infection. It is recommended to take your baby to the emergency room or paediatrician’s office if he/she:
    • Under 3 months of age and has a rectal temperature of 38°C [100.4°F] or higher.
    • 3 to 6 months of age and has a rectal temperature of 38.3°C [101°F] or higher.
    • Over 6 months of age and has a rectal temperature of 39 °C [102.2°F] or higher.
    • Seems unusually bothered and is crying relentlessly.
  2. No matter the age of your child, if their temperature reaches 40°C [104°F] or higher.
  3. If your child’s fever has lasted 3 days or more
  4. If your child repeatedly runs high temperatures
  5. If your child has other symptoms in addition to a high temperature such as:
    • Repeated diarrhoea
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Headache
    • Stiff neck
    • Severe lethargy or unresponsiveness
    • Vomiting

Summing Up

As a parent, informing yourself about facts is a great idea. However, there is a lot to be said for parental intuition. Because you spend so much time around your kids, you probably know the unique quirks of their bodies better than anyone else. You might even be familiar with your child’s temperature, at a baseline level. Even if the thermometer returns a supposedly “normal” reading, you should go with your instinct as a parent.

If your kid has a fever and you feel compelled to take them to the doctor to rule out something serious, you probably should. After all, there’s nothing more important to a parent than their child and most parents, given the choice, would rather make unnecessary trips to the doctor than take chances on their little one’s health.

About the author

Abishek Swaminathen

Senior Content Manager

Abishek is ONiO’s senior content manager. A medical doctor by profession, he stumbled onto a writing career almost by accident, as it were. Words have enthralled Abishek since the day he first held a book and at ONiO, he channels his inner wordsmith towards providing our subscribers with regular doses of fun and informative content.

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