Feb. 21, 2023 – Many parents are giving children fever-reducing medication when it’s not recommended, a new poll shows.
Among parents of children ages 12 and under, 1 in 3 said they give fever-reducing medicine to a child to lessen a high temperature that is still below 100.4 F. Turning too quickly to medications like Tylenol can mask other symptoms that come with a low-grade fever, which could potentially delay a diagnosis of what is causing the fever in the first place.
The results were published Monday by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan. The survey tallied responses from 1,376 parents in August and September 2022.
Child health experts typically define a fever as 100.4 F or above. An elevated temperature itself is not dangerous, and can sometimes be helpful.
“Some parents may immediately rush to give their kids medicine, but it’s often better to let the fever runs its course. Lowering a child’s temperature doesn’t typically help cure their illness any faster,” researcher and pediatrician Susan Woolford, MD, said in a statement. “In fact, a low-grade fever helps fight off the infection. There’s also the risk of giving too much medication when it's not needed, which can have side effects.”
Among parents in the survey:
- 35% would give medicine for a temperature below 100.4 F.
- 50% would give medicine for a temperature that was between 100.4 and 101.9 F.
- 15% would give medicine at 102 F or higher.
One in 4 parents also said they later give another dose to prevent the fever from returning.
The main benefit to using fever-reducing medication is usually to relieve discomfort, the researchers explained.
An increased body temperature has been shown to make immune cells better at destroying viruses and bacteria that cause infection, the researchers wrote. They said that instead, parents should monitor the high temperature and use comforting non-medication strategies such as:
- Keep the room cool.
- Ensure the child doesn’t get overexerted.
- Dress the child in light clothing.
- Ensure they stay hydrated.
The researchers encouraged parents and caregivers to use accurate methods to take a child’s temperature. Temperatures taken orally are the most accurate and can be used once a child is old enough to hold a thermometer with a closed mouth. For infants and young children, taking a rectal temperature is the most accurate method.
It’s also important to know when to call a medical professional if a child’s fever continues to rise during monitoring, the researchers advised. When to pick up the phone depends on the child’s age.
Any sign of a fever in an infant 3 months or younger is cause to call a health care provider. For infants 4 to 12 months old, the researchers advised calling when the fever comes with a lower activity level, more fussiness, or fewer wet diapers.
For older children, a call to the doctor is in order if the fever persists for more than 24 hours for kids under age 2, or for more than 3 days for kids ages 2 and older. Always call for a fever that reaches 104 F.