What do you do when your child has a fever? Should you call the doctor, go to the emergency room or give your child medicine to bring the fever down? It is important to remember that most fevers are not serious. In fact, fevers under 102 degrees Fahrenheit generally do not need to be treated if your child is older than three months old and is acting normally.

A fever is not an illness, but rather a symptom of one. Most fevers are caused by an infection or other illness, but also can be the result of overdressing or immunizations. But a fever, along with other symptoms, can be caused by more serious conditions such as appendicitis, strep throat, meningitis, chickenpox, measles, mumps or a kidney infection. That is why it is important to watch your child’s overall condition as well as take a temperature when deciding if your child has a minor illness or needs to see a doctor.

If your child is uncomfortable and has a temperature higher than 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, there are some things you can do to alleviate the symptoms that can be associated with a fever.

  • Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen based on recommended dosages for height and weight listed on the package. (Aspirin is not recommended for children under 12 due to the associated risk of Reye syndrome, a potentially fatal disease. If your child is under two, check with your doctor before giving any medication.)
  • Give your child a sponge bath using lukewarm water. (Do not put alcohol in the water; this can cause poisoning.)
  • Dress your child in lightweight clothing, cover with a light sheet or blanket, and keep the room at a comfortable temperature.
  • Offer fluids to prevent dehydration. (Avoid sports drinks that can make diarrhea worse, limit the intake of fruit and apple juices, and stay away from drinks that contain caffeine.)
  • Encourage your child to get plenty of rest.

Knowing when to call the doctor or take your child to the emergency room for a fever depends on your child’s age, illness and other symptoms. Contact the doctor’s office if your child is younger than three months old and has a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, or if an older child has a fever higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Also call the doctor if an older child has a lower fever, but refuses to drink liquids, has persistent diarrhea or repeated vomiting, shows signs of dehydration, or experiences recurrent fevers.

A trip to the emergency room may be necessary in cases when a feverish child also:

  • Cries inconsolably for hours and is very irritable.
  • Develops a rash or spots that look like bruises.
  • Has a stiff neck.
  • Becomes limp and refuses to move.
  • Has difficulty breathing, a severe headache, or blue lips, tongue or nails.

Every child develops a fever at some point and most recover quickly, usually in a matter of days. If your child is eating and sleeping well, most likely he or she does not need any treatment. But if you have any questions about your child’s condition, call the doctor.