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Watching your young child suffer with fever is hard -- and sometimes scary. Just remember that children's fevers are extremely common. Fever is the body's natural defense against infection. The body is raising its temperature to kill off the germs. In most cases, fevers are harmless and go away on their own.

Here are a few facts to put your mind at ease, followed by tips on how to help your feverish child.

  • How often do young children get fevers? Frequently. Infections, many of which cause fever, are very common in children.
  • How long do children' fevers last? It varies, but fevers may last 1 to 3 days.
  • How often do you need to check a sick kid's temperature? That depends on the situation. Ask your pediatrician. Usually, you don't need to take your child's temperature obsessively -- or wake up a peacefully sleeping child to get a reading. But check it if his energy seems low.
  • Which thermometer is best for kids? Digital thermometers are best, and they can be used orally, rectally, or under the arm. For young children, a rectal temperature is most accurate. If your kids are age 4 to 5 or older, you can probably get a good oral temperature. Underarm temperatures are less reliable but they're simple to take. Remember to add a degree to an underarm reading. This will be closer to the true temperature your child has. 

Remember, look at your child's overall behavior, not just the temperature. If your child is running a fever but is playing and smiling at you, that's a good sign. Doctors get more concerned if a child is lethargic, has a rash, or is acting especially upset -- unresponsive or crying uncontrollably.

Tips on Treating Your Child's Fever

Here's what works:

  • Use acetaminophen for children 2 years and older (if your child is younger than 2 years, ask your doctor for the correct dose) or ibuprofen for kids 6 months and older.
  • Use a cold compress on your child's forehead.
  • Give your child a lukewarm sponge bath. If your child begins to shiver, take him out of the bath.
  • Keep the room at a comfortable temperature -- not too hot or too cold.
  • Dress your child in one layer of light clothing and offer a light blanket.
  • Make sure your child drinks lots of fluids to keep hydrated.

Here's what doesn't work:

  • Don't use aspirin for a child's fever. 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 kids 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 medicine that most closely matches the child’s symptoms.
  • Don't use an icy cold bath or rub your child's skin with alcohol. Either can actually drive a fever up.
  • Even if your child is feeling cold with the chills, don't bundle a sick child up with thick blankets or clothes.
  • Don't switch back and forth between medicines without your pediatrician's OK.