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Fever: Brief Version

What is a fever?

A fever means the body temperature is above normal. Your child has a fever if:

  • The rectal, ear, or temporal artery temperature is over 100.4°F (38°C).
  • The temperature taken by mouth or pacifier is over 100°F (37.8°C).
  • The armpit temperature is over 99.0°F (37.2°C).
  • The ear temperature is not a good way to check babies under 6 months old.

Fever helps fight infections. Most fevers are not harmful. They may last 2 or 3 days.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Use medicine only if the child needs it. Remember that fever helps your child fight the infection. Use medicine only if the fever is over 102°F (39°C) and your child is uncomfortable.
    • You can give acetaminophen (Tylenol) to children older than 3 months. Fever medicine lowers the fever by 2 to 3°F (1 to 1.5°C).
    • You may want to give your child ibuprofen instead. Ibuprofen (Advil) works 2 hours longer than acetaminophen. Give the right dose for your child's weight, every 6 to 8 hours, as needed. You can give ibuprofen to children over 6 months of age.
    • Do not use acetaminophen and ibuprofen together unless your child’s doctor tells you to do so.
  • Do not give your child or teen aspirin.
  • Sponge your child if the fever does not go down. Sponge your child if your child's temperature stays over 104°F (40°C) 30 minutes after your child has taken acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Always give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen first. Sit your child in only 2 inches of lukewarm water. Sponge off the child's skin. If your child shivers, stop sponging or put in more warm water.
  • Have your child drink a lot of cold fluids.
  • Have your child wear as little clothing as possible. Do not bundle up your child. It may make the fever go higher.

For fevers of 100 to 102°F (37.8 to 38.9°C), cold fluids and little clothing may be all your child needs. Fever medicines are rarely needed. Fevers help the body fight the infection.

Call your child's doctor right away if:

  • Your child is less than 3 months old and has a fever.
  • Your child's fever is over 104°F (40°C).
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child looks or acts very sick.
  • Your child has any serious symptoms, such as fever along with severe headache, confusion, stiff neck, trouble breathing, rash, or refusing to drink.
  • Your child has a fever and recent travel outside the country to high risk area.

Call your child's doctor within 24 hours if:

  • Your child is 3 to 6 months old (unless the fever is due to an immunization shot).
  • Your child has had a fever more than 24 hours and you don't know what is causing it AND your child is less than 2 years old.
  • Your child has had a fever for more than 3 days.
  • The fever went away for over 24 hours and then came back.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2018.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2016-06-01
Last reviewed: 2017-06-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2018 Barton D. Schmitt, MD FAAP. All rights reserved.
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