What Is Classed as a High Temperature?
Fevers in children are fairly common and are not usually serious, but if you're a new parent you will, quite likely, feel worried. A fever is defined as a temperature over 37.5°C. The most likely cause of a fever in a child is a common infection such as a cough or a cold. If your child looks hot – perhaps their face is red or flushed, and the child is hot to the touch then it is likely that they have a fever.
Possible Causes of a High Fever
The most likely cause of a high fever in your child is a viral infection. A viral infection is the cause of many common illnesses such as colds, coughs, flu, diarrhoea, etc. If your child is coming down with a common infection such as these, they may well have a raised temperature. On occasion a viral infection can cause a more serious illness.
Bacterial infections are also a cause of fever although they are less common. Bacterial infections may give rise to more serious illness such as pneumonia, urine and kidney infections, septicaemia and meningitis.
Other uncommon types of infection that may cause a high temperature include meningococcal infections, meningitis and septicaemia.
What to Do If Your Child Has a Fever
Check the child's temperature using a thermometer. There are a number of child friendly thermometers on the market that are not invasive and will not worry your child. If you have one it is best to use a digital thermometer as other types of thermometer may not be as accurate. Do not use a mercury thermometer in case it gets broken. Mercury is poisonous.
You can take a temperature under the arm. If you measure the temperature under the arm you are looking for a normal temperature of 36.4°C (97.4°F). Anything above that is a high temperature and potential fever. If you measure your child's temperature under the tongue a normal temperature will be approximately 37°C (98.4°F), although this can vary a little.
Keep your child hydrated. Coax them to drink a little even if they aren't thirsty. They don't need to eat unless they are hungry so don't force them. Dehydration will develop more quickly in a child who is vomiting or has diarrhoea.
Keep your child cool. Undress them down to their nappy, or vest and pants, and cover them with a sheet.
You can administer paracetamol or ibuprofen for fever, but always check the label so that you give the right dose and never give both at once. Do not give your child aspirin. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can help to lower a temperature and you can buy them in liquid form especially for children. However, do not administer ibuprofen to hypersensitive children, those on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), children who have asthma that is triggered by an NSAID or to children that have chickenpox.
Keep the room they are in at a comfortable temperature for them, around 18°C (65°F) is best. Adjust the heating or open the window and air the room. Do not over cool the room and it is best not to use a fan.
Rule out serious infection. A child with a severe infection will tend to get worse despite efforts to bring down the temperature. They may have other symptoms such as breathing problems, drowsiness, convulsions, pains, or headaches. If you think a child is getting worse for any reason, or is developing a serious infection, then seek medical help.
Check on your child every few hours overnight.
Keep them off school or nursery until they feel better.
When to Call Your GP
You should always contact your GP, health visitor, practice nurse or nurse practitioner if you are worried about your child. In the case of a fever contact your GP if there are other signs of illness, or if your baby's temperature is 38°C (101°F) or higher (if they're under three months). If they are three to six months contact your GP if the temperature is 39°C (102°F) or higher.
Your GP will usually have an 'out of hours' service. If no one can advise you quickly enough take your child straight to your nearest Accident and Emergency department.
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Updated: April 24, 2018 CET