crsheader Index Spanish version Illustration Illustration Related Topics Thumbnail image of: Temperature, How to Measure in Armpit: Illustration Thumbnail image of: Temperature, How to Take by Mouth: Illustration 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. Your child may not need acetaminophen.

Call your child’s doctor right away if:

  • Your child is less than 3 months old.
  • Your child’s fever is over 104° F (40° C).
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child looks or acts very sick.

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. Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-06-08
Last reviewed: 2011-06-06 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. Pediatric Advisor 2011.4 Index
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