One of the most common childhood health complaints we hear from parents is that of fevers - other wise known as high temperatures. There is much conflicting information about what to do when they occur and if it is a cause for concern. Whilst often harmless to the affected child, they can be a concern for parents and caregivers. Here are some ideas to help you be more prepared when it happens to your child.
WHAT IS A FEVER?
Every person's body has an internal thermostat within the brain called the hypothalamus which is responsible for regulating our body temperature and keeping it around 36.5/37 degrees Celsius / 98.5 - 99 degrees Fahrenheit. When there is inflammation within the body, most commonly caused by infection, the hypothalamus is under more pressure and therefore often is unable to keep the temperature under control. In children a fever is anything over 37.5 degrees C/ 99.5 degrees F.
HOW CAN I HELP MY CHILD?
Act on reliable information: Ensure that you are taking your child's temperature with a thermometer that is reliable and gives trustworthy readings. In general, digital thermometers are preferable to ones placed directly on the skin. The best places to test temperature from are - under the arm or in the mouth and rectally ( in the bottom) for babies. It is also important not to measure your child's temperature straight after a bath, after they go out in the cold or when they are undressing from several layers as the reading can be misleading.
Antipyretics : If your child is in discomfort with their fever, it can be advisable to give medication to lower the temperature. The most commonly used are paracetamol and ibuprofen. (Ibuprofen should not be used in children who suffer from asthma). These medications can be taken together and are often most effective when they are alternated every few hours. If your child is functioning normally despite their fever, their is probably no need to give medication. Babies under 3 months should not be given any medication without the advice of a doctor. These medications will not treat the cause of the fever, only the symptoms.
Adequate Hydration: Children with fever will sweat more and therefore will require more water. It is important that your child is well hydrated when they have a fever in order that they do not become dehydrated and therefore more unwell. When your child is at home with a fever, they should be offered drinks on a regular basis, even if they are not thirsty. It can be helpful to ensure that they are able to keep liquids down and that they are emptying their bladder regularly which are good signs of hydration. In babies, you are looking for a usual amount of wet nappies.
Don't Raise their body Temperature: As strange as this sounds, the worst thing for a child who has a fever is to warm them up or cool them down from the outside. Examples of this would be putting extra layers on them or giving them a cool bath or placing a fan directly on to them. This external stimuli confuse the hypothalamus which often responds by sending the internal temperature to rise rather than fall.
Rest - Even if your child is behaving normally, it is important they take it easy with a fever. It is advisable that they stay home from school or child care until 24 hours after the fever has settled.
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE MY CHILD TO A DOCTOR?
If your child is exhibiting other signs of being unwell including tiredness, vomiting or complaining something hurts, it is worth taking them to a doctor. The same is true if a fever lasts for longer than 48 hours or does not respond to medication. Babies below 3 months should be seen if their fever is higher than 38 degrees C or 101 degrees F and babies between 3 and 6 months should be seen if their fever is higher than 39 degrees C or 102 degrees F.
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