Home / Babies / Health & daily care / Health concerns

Fever
Your child’s average body temperature is about 37°C. If your
child’s temperature is higher than 38°C for 24 hours or more,
she probably has a fever. A fever is a sign of illness.

Causes of fever and high temperature in children

Fever is not an illness in itself, but is the sign of an illness.

Children get fevers for all kinds of reasons. Most fevers and the illnesses that
cause them last only a few days. But sometimes a fever will last much
longer, and might be the sign of an underlying chronic or long-term illness
or disease.

Infections are by far the most common cause of fever in children. In general, fever is nature’s response
to infection, and can actually help the body fight infection.

Most of these infections are caused by viruses, which are responsible for colds and upper respiratory
infections, as well as the common infectious diseases of childhood, such as chickenpox. These infections
don’t last long and usually don’t need to be treated.

Some infections are caused by bacteria, and need treatment with antibiotics. These include certain ear
and throat infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, blood infections and meningitis. A very sore
throat with a fever can be caused by streptococcus. If it isn’t treated with antibiotics, this infection can lead
to rheumatic fever or heart damage.

There are other less common causes of fever. These include allergic reactions to drugs or vaccines,
chronic joint inflammation, some tumours and gastrointestinal diseases, like gastroenteritis.

Fever symptoms

During the course of each day, body temperature goes up and down by up to one degree. It’s usually
lowest in the early hours of the morning, and highest in the late afternoon and early evening.

A fever or high temperature might come on slowly and rise over a few days, or it might rise very quickly.
The height of a fever, and how quickly it comes on, usually doesn’t have anything to do with the illness
that causes it.

Fever in itself is rarely harmful. But the high temperature might make your child feel uncomfortable – he
might have chills or shivering when his temperature is rising, and might sweat when it’s falling. Sometimes
he might become mildly dehydrated if he’s losing a lot of fluid from the fever and not replacing it.

Febrile convulsions are seizures that happen because of fever. They occur in about 4% of children
between the ages of six months and five years. Children outgrow febrile convulsions by the age of 4-5
years. Febrile convulsions have no long-term consequences, but you should talk to your doctor about
them.

Sometimes your child might appear flushed, and her skin might feel warm, but her core
(inner body) temperature will be quite normal. This can happen when your child has a cold

(c)2017 Raising Children Network. All Rights Reserved. Page 1/4

Your child’s temperature will return to normal when the infection or other cause of the fever has completely gone. see a doctor) complains of a stiff neck. Page 2/4 . Giving your child more than the recommended dose can cause liver damage. All Rights Reserved. sponging and fans can actually make your child more uncomfortable. because it’s harder to tell if they have a serious underlying illness. seek medical attention if your child: looks sicker than before – more pale. The most important thing is to make sure he’s drinking enough to avoid dehydration. Give your child frequent small amounts of clear fluids. children handle fever well. but you can do a few things to make your child more comfortable: Dress your child in light clothing. In children under 12 months. Cool baths. Generally. You must not give your child aspirin for any reason. It can also cause serious illness or even death in children with chickenpox or flu symptoms. a rare but potentially fatal illness. treat the fever only if you feel it’s making your child uncomfortable. Aspirin can make your child susceptible to Reye’s syndrome. irritable or so lethargic that she can’t drink enough fluids. fever might be a sign of a more significant illness. It’s important not to give fever- lowering medication too often or for prolonged periods. because it can cause side effects. to drink. persistent headache or light hurting his eyes vomits persistently. like water. and is weeing less often (if your baby has fewer than half the usual number of wet nappies. Taking your child’s temperature (c)2017 Raising Children Network. or has frequent bouts of diarrhoea doesn’t improve in 48 hours suffers pain has a fever above 40°C is causing you to worry for any other reason. or has done some hard physical activity. and you do need to seek medical advice. Fever is a result of the body’s attempt to fight an infection. that’s OK. When to see your doctor about fever and high temperature Babies under three months of age who develop a fever must be seen by a doctor immediately. If your child isn’t hungry. In children over 12 months. It can also happen on a very hot day. lethargic and weak has trouble breathing becomes drowsy refuses to drink. Give your child liquid paracetamol in the correct and recommended dose. In older children. If your child is under six months old you should breastfeed often and/or give cooled boiled water. Fever treatment A fever will run its course regardless of treatment.

Wait for the thermometer to beep before taking a reading. it’s also the least accurate method. Feeling your child’s skin temperature (for example. Oral temperatures It’s hard to take an oral temperature if your child is under five years because he might not cooperate. Oral readings can be around half a degree lower than body temperature. Place the thermometer well under one side of your child’s tongue. or the tip of the thermometer might damage the lining of the rectum. he might find it hard to breathe with his mouth closed. Page 3/4 . Have your child hold it in place with her lips. not her teeth. To take an oral temperature: Wait five minutes after your child has had a hot or cold drink (or it will affect the temperature).You might want to take your child’s temperature if your child is: unwell and feels warmer than usual irritable and crying more sleepy than usual in pain refusing to drink. or vomiting. Using a thermometer is the best way to check your child’s temperature. (c)2017 Raising Children Network. Rectal readings are most reliable for babies under three months. Your GP or child and family health nurse nurse can also show you how to take your child’s temperature with a thermometer. which can be a little inaccurate superficially – wiping a device called a temporal artery thermometer across your child’s forehead. Taking a rectal temperature is often difficult. holding his elbow against his body. Armpit readings can record a temperature up to 1 degree lower than the actual body temperature. especially in young children. Rectal temperatures Rectal thermometers are best used for babies and young children under 12 months (older children will probably protest loudly!). especially when your baby is very active – the thermometer can slide out of the rectum. Armpit temperatures Taking your child’s temperature under the armpit is usually the safest method. There are several different methods for taking a child’s temperature using a thermometer: orally – putting a digital thermometer in your child’s mouth under the tongue rectally – putting the thermometer a little way into your baby’s rectum axillary – putting the thermometer under your child’s armpit aurally – putting a digital ear thermometer into your child’s ear. Place the tip of a digital thermometer just inside your child’s anus and wait for it to beep before taking a reading. Place the thermometer in your child’s armpit and close his arm. If your child has a blocked nose because of a cold. and tell her to breathe through her nose. Unfortunately. by putting your hand to her forehead) isn’t always a reliable way of diagnosing a fever. Wait until the thermometer beeps before taking a reading. All Rights Reserved.

Temporal artery thermometers These are the simplest thermometers to use. Other types One type of thermometer involves a plastic strip that you put on your child's forehead to get a digital reading of your child’s temperature. until the thermometer beeps. Your doctor or nurse can show you how to place the thermometer in your child’s ear canal. All Rights Reserved. This system isn’t very accurate – at best. so something else might be easier to use. Thermometer types Ear thermometers (infrared tympanic thermometers) These are quick and easy to use. If you’re using a mercury thermometer. as long as the ear canal doesn’t have too much wax in it. so you get a reasonably accurate reading. it can give you only a rough guide to your child’s temperature. The thermometer is scanned across your child’s forehead. It’s accurate to within about a degree. Rated (6546) ratings More to explore Signs of serious childhood illness Last updated or reviewed 04-11-2016 (c)2017 Raising Children Network. You put a plastic cover over the tip of the thermometer and put the tip gently just inside your child’s ear canal. Infants or toddlers who don’t use pacifiers will usually resist a pacifier thermometer. Pacifier thermometers These are good if your child already uses a pacifier. Page 4/4 . consider replacing it with one of the thermometers below. Mercury thermometers can poison a child if they break. An advantage of these thermometers is that you can check a sleeping child without waking her.