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Taking Care of Your Child's Fever

By Renee Bacher
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD

Young kids often get fevers. They're a normal part of childhood and usually aren't serious. In most cases, they go away on their own. Fever is the body's way of killing off infections by raising the heat on germs. It can be caused by bacteria, like strep throat, or a virus, like the flu. The key is learning how and when to treat them so you can keep your child comfortable until she's feeling better.

When should I treat fever?

You can treat a fever when your child seems uncomfortable. It won't make his infection go away, but it can help him feel better. Sometimes a fever can make your child sleepy. If you don't treat a low fever, your child may be able to get more rest.

How should I treat fever?

Give him a child's dosage of ibuprofen or acetaminophen to safely bring his fever down. You can use ibuprofen for kids 6 months and older or acetaminophen for children 2 years and up. Ask your doctor for the correct dose if your child is under 2.

How can I keep my child comfortable when she has a fever?

  • A 15-minute bath in lukewarm water may help bring your child’s fever down. Make sure the water doesn't get cold, and take her out if she starts to shiver.
  • Dress your child lightly. Use a sheet instead of a blanket to cover her in bed.
  • Breastfeed or give your baby formula often. You may want to consider an oral rehydration drink like Pedialyte for babies. If your child is weaned, encourage him to drink extra water. Skip soda and caffeinated drinks, which can be dehydrating.

What’s the best kind of thermometer for children?

Digital thermometers are inexpensive, fast, and accurate. Depending on the model, they can be used to take temperature by mouth, under the arm, or in the bottom. There’s a temperature sensor at one end and a digital display at the other. Clear the screen before inserting the thermometer and remove it when it beeps. Clean the thermometer according to directions before storing it.

Electronic ear thermometers are fast and easy to use in children 12 weeks and older, but they're expensive and aren’t as accurate for newborns and infants.

Plastic strip thermometers that are pressed against the forehead and pacifier thermometers are convenient, but they're not very accurate either -- especially for infants. Don't use glass mercury thermometers. There's a risk of being exposed to mercury, which is toxic.

When should I call the doctor?

Call your doctor right away if you have a baby 12 weeks of age or younger with a temperature above 100.3. For a child of any age, call your doctor right away if his temperature rises above 104, if he won't stop crying, or has any of the following:

  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache
  • Severe sore throat
  • Ear pain
  • Repeated vomiting or diarrhea
  • A seizure
  • Rash

You should also call your doctor if the fever has dropped but your child is still acting sick or if he seems to be getting worse. Call if the fever lasts more than 24 hours in a child younger than 2, or more than three days in a child 2 and up.

Reviewed on July 24, 2013
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