Fever in Infants and Children
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What is a normal temperature?
A normal temperature is about 37°C (98.6°F) when taken orally (in your child’s mouth) and 37.5°C (99.5°F) when taken rectally (in your child’s bottom).
Normal temperature range
36.6°C to 37.9°C (97.9°F to 100.2°F)
35.5°C to 37.7°C (95.9°F to 99.9°F)
34.7°C to 37.1°C (94.5°F to 98.8°F)
35.8°C to 37.9°C (96.4°F to 100.3°F)
How should I take my child’s temperature?
You can get the most accurate temperature by taking their temperature rectally. Use a digital thermometer. Do not use a mercury thermometer. Mercury is an environmental toxin (poison), and you don’t want to risk exposing your family to it.
- Be sure to label your rectal thermometer so that it isn’t accidentally used in your child’s mouth.
- Before taking your child’s temperature, clean the thermometer in lukewarm soapy water and rinse it well with cool water.
- If you’re taking your child’s temperature orally, wait at least 20 minutes after your child finishes eating or drinking hot or cold foods and beverages to take their temperature.
- Don’t bundle your baby or child up too tightly before taking their temperature.
- Don’t take your child’s temperature right after they have had a bath.
- Never leave your child alone while using a thermometer.
- After you’re done using a thermometer, clean it with rubbing alcohol or wash it in cool, soapy water.
Taking your child’s temperature rectally
If you’re taking your child’s temperature rectally, place them belly-down across your lap. Coat the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly (brand name: Vaseline) and insert it half an inch into the rectum. Stop if you feel any resistance. Hold the thermometer still and do not let go. When the thermometer beeps, remove it and check the digital reading.
Taking your child’s temperature orally
If you’re taking your child’s temperature orally, place the end of the thermometer under their tongue, towards the back of the mouth. Have your child close their lips on the thermometer. Tell your child not to bite down or talk. When the thermometer beeps, remove it and check the digital reading.
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
If your child has any of the following warning signs, contact your healthcare provider right away.
- Constant vomiting or diarrhea
- Dry mouth
- Earache or pulling at ears
- Fever comes and goes over several days
- High-pitched crying
- No appetite
- Pale appearance
- Severe headache
- Skin rash
- Sore or swollen joints
- Sore throat
- Stiff neck
- Stomach pain
- Swelling of the soft spot on an infant’s head
- Unresponsiveness or limpness
- Wheezing or problems breathing
If your child is:
Younger than 3 months of age, contact your healthcare provider right away or go to the emergency room if your baby’s rectal temperature is 38°C (100.4°F ) or higher. Contact your healthcare provider even if your child doesn’t seem sick. Babies this young can get very sick quickly.
Should I try to lower my child’s fever?
Fevers are a sign that the body is fighting germs that cause infection. If your child is between 3 months of age and 3 years of age and has a low-grade fever (up to 39°C [102°F]), you may want to avoid giving them medicine. If your child is achy and fussy, and their temperature is above 39°C (102°F), you may want to give them some medicine.
If your baby is younger than 3 months of age and has a rectal temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or higher, contact your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room right away. A fever can be a sign of a serious infection in young babies.
What kind of medicine should I give my child, and how much?
Do not give any medicine to babies who are younger than 3 months of age without talking to your healthcare provider first.
Acetaminophen (one brand name: Children’s or Infants’ Tylenol) relieves pain and lowers fever. Check the package label or ask your healthcare provider about the correct dosage for your child. The correct dosage depends on your child’s weight and age.
Ibuprofen is another medicine that can be used to lower a fever in children older than 6 months of age. Contact your healthcare provider before giving ibuprofen (two brand names: Children’s Advil, Children’s Motrin) to your child. Your healthcare provider will tell you the correct dose for your child.
Tips on giving medicine
- Don’t give more than 5 doses in 1 day.
- Don’t give a baby younger than 3 months of age any medicine unless your healthcare provider tells you to.
- Read package labels carefully. Make sure you are giving your child the right amount of medicine.
- For liquid medicines, use a special liquid measuring device to be sure you give the right dose. Get one at your drug store or ask your pharmacist. An ordinary kitchen teaspoon may not hold the right amount of medicine.
Can I give my child aspirin to lower their fever?
No. In rare cases, aspirin can cause Reye’s syndrome in children. Reye’s syndrome is a serious illness that can lead to death. Healthcare providers recommend that parents should not give aspirin to children younger than 18 years of age.
What else can I do to help my child feel better?
- Give your child plenty of fluids to drink to prevent dehydration (not enough fluid in the body) and help the body cool itself. Water, clear soups, popsicles and flavored gelatin are good choices.
- If your child is getting enough fluids, don’t force them to eat if they don’t feel like it.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.
- Keep the room temperature at about 21.1°C to 23.3°C (70°F to 74°F).
- Dress your child in light cotton pajamas. Overdressing can trap body heat and cause your child’s temperature to rise.
- If your child has chills, give them an extra blanket. Remove it when the chills stop.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
- Is there any medicine I can give my child?
- What is the correct dose of medicine for my child?
- If my child’s fever goes up suddenly, should I take them to the emergency room?
- How long should I wait to contact the healthcare provider if my child’s fever doesn’t go away?
- What is the easiest way to take my child’s temperature?
- How can I make my child comfortable during the fever?