A fever isn't an illness itself, but it's usually a sign that something out of the ordinary is going on in your body. Fevers aren't necessarily bad. In fact, fevers seem to play a key role in helping your body fight off a number of infections.
If you're an adult, a fever may be uncomfortable, but it usually isn't dangerous unless
it measures 103 F or higher. For very young children and infants, however, even
slightly elevated temperatures may indicate a serious infection.
Most fevers go away in a relatively short time \u2014 usually within a few days. Not all
fevers need treatment with medications. And it's possible for fever medications to
have side effects, especially for the very young.
A fever occurs when your temperature rises above its normal range. What's normal
for you may be a little higher or lower than the average temperature of 98.6 F. But a
rectal temperature higher than 100.4 F is always considered a fever. A rectal
temperature reading is generally 1 degree Fahrenheit higher than an oral reading.
Although these seizures can be extremely alarming, most children don't experience any lasting effects. Febrile seizures are often triggered by a fever from a common childhood illness such as roseola, a viral infection that causes a high fever, swollen glands and a rash.
Even when you're well, your body temperature varies throughout the day \u2014 it's lower
in the morning and higher in the late afternoon and evening. In fact, your normal
temperature can range from about 97 to 99 F. Although most people consider 98.6 F a
healthy body temperature, yours may vary by a degree or more.
Your body temperature is set by your hypothalamus, an area at the base of your brain
that acts as a thermostat for your whole system. When something's wrong, your
normal temperature is simply set a few points higher. The new set-point, for example,
may be 102 F instead of 97 or 98 F.
When a fever starts and your body tries to elevate its temperature, you feel chilly and
may shiver to generate heat. At this point, you probably wrap yourself in your thickest
blanket and turn up the heating pad. But eventually, as your body reaches its new set-
point, you likely feel hot. And when your temperature finally begins to return to
normal, you may sweat profusely, which is your body's way of dissipating the excess
A fever usually means your body is responding to a viral or bacterial infection.
Sometimes heat exhaustion, extreme sunburn or certain inflammatory conditions such
as temporal arteritis \u2014 inflammation of an artery in your head \u2014 may trigger fever as
well. In rare instances, a malignant tumor or some forms of kidney cancer may cause
Fever can be a side effect of some medications such as antibiotics and drugs used to
treat high blood pressure or seizures. Some infants and children develop fevers after
receiving routine immunizations, such as the diphtheria, tetanus and acellular
pertussis (DTaP) or pneumococcal vaccines.
Sometimes it's not possible to identify the cause of a fever. If you have a temperature
higher than 100.9 F for more than three weeks and your doctor isn't able to find the
cause after extensive evaluation, the diagnosis may be fever of unknown origin. In
most cases, though, the reason for your fever can be found and treated.
Fevers by themselves may not be a cause for alarm \u2014 or a reason to call a doctor. Yet
there are some circumstances when you should seek medical advice for your baby,
your child or yourself.
younger than age 2, these may be signs of meningitis \u2014 an infection and
inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal
cord. If you're worried that your baby might have meningitis, see your doctor
right away. Don't wait until morning to see your usual physician \u2014 meningitis
is an emergency.
Children often tolerate fevers quite well, although high temperatures may cause
parents a great deal of concern. Still, it's best to be guided more by how your child
acts than by any particular temperature measurement. There's probably no cause for
alarm if your child has a fever but is responsive \u2014 making eye contact with you and
responding to your facial expressions and to your voice, is drinking plenty of fluids
and wants to play.
Ask your doctor for guidance if you have special circumstances, such as a child with
immune system problems or with a pre-existing illness. Your doctor also may
recommend different precautions if your child has just started taking a new
Sometimes, older children can have a lower-than-normal temperature. This can happen to older children with severe neurological impairments, children with a life- threatening bacterial infection in the blood (sepsis), and children with a suppressed immune system.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?