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If you're a parent, it's a scene that's all too familiar. You put your hand on your sick child's forehead and it feels warm. Then the thermometer confirms your suspicion: He's got a fever. But if you follow some simple rules you'll make him more comfortable and keep him safe.

Fever is a defense against infection. Your child's body is raising its temperature to kill the germs. In most cases it's harmless and goes away on its own in 3 days.

What You Should Do

Acetaminophen can lower your child's temperature. If he's older than 2, the dose will be listed on the label. If he's younger, ask your doctor how much to give him.

Another option is ibuprofen if your child is at least 6 months old.

There's a lot you can do to make him feel better. Put a cool compress on his head and keep his room at a moderate temperature -- not too hot and not too cold. Dress him in one layer of light clothing and offer a light blanket. You can also cool him off with a lukewarm sponge bath.

And don't forget -- make sure he drinks a lot of fluids.

What You Shouldn't Do

Never give your child aspirin. It can cause a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.

Avoid combination cold and flu remedies in young kids. They shouldn't be used in children under age 4. In older kids, it’s unclear how well they work.

If you decide to use cold medicine, read the label and pick the one that most closely matches your child’s symptoms. Don't switch back and forth between different medications without your pediatrician's OK.

Don't use an icy cold bath or rub your child's skin with alcohol. Either can actually drive a fever up.

And even if your child has the chills, don't bundle him up with thick blankets or clothes.

When Should You Call the Doctor?

Usually, you don't need to take your sick child to the doctor. But sometimes fever can be a serious warning sign. Call your pediatrician if he:

  • Has a temperature of 104 F or higher
  • Is under 3 months old and has a temperature of 100.4 F or higher
  • Has a fever that lasts for more than 72 hours (or more than 24 hours if your child is under age 2)
  • Has a fever along with other symptoms such as a stiff neck, extremely sore throat, ear pain, rash, or severe headache
  • Has a seizure
  • Seems very sick, upset, or unresponsive