Your Child's Fever - How High is too High?

By Dr. Joey Shulman, D.C., RNCP

Starve a fever, feed a cold? Parents are often confused about how they should deal with their child’s fever. Instead of going into panic mode, it is best to understand what a fever is to determine if it is an emergency situation or not.

Although fevers often make parents nervous and uncomfortable, they should not be perceived as the enemy. In fact, most fevers are a blessing in disguise. A fever is one of the body’s many adaptive functions to deal with foreign substances or environments such as an infection. Viruses and bacteria live at body temperature. When your internal thermostat rises and creates a fever, white blood cells are activated and your body heats up to kill off potentially threatening bugs. In fact, research shows that medicating a child with an anti-fever drug for a low to moderate fever may interfere with this natural defense. In addition to viruses and infections, such as ear and bronchial infections, fevers can also be due to over bundling a child or excessive crying.

How to Take Your Child’s Temperature

Normal body temperature in a child can vary. The average normal temperature values are:
  • Oral 36 to 37.5 Celcius
  • Underarm (axillary) 35 to 37 Celcius

    When buying a thermometer, do not choose a glass mercury thermometer. If this type of thermometer breaks, it becomes an environmental toxin and can cause serious harm to your child. Digital thermometers are best and can be found in all drug stores.

    I recommend using the armpit method for taking a child’s temperature under the age of four years. After ensuring that your child’s armpit is dry, simply place the digital thermometer in your child’s armpit, keeping the arm snug against the body. When the digital thermometer beeps, read the temperature.

    For children over the age of four, an oral digital temperature can be taken. For starters, ensure your child has not had anything to eat or drink within 15 minutes of taking their temperature. Place the thermometer under the child’s tongue. Make sure your child is holding the thermometer firmly under their tongue but not biting it. When the thermometer beeps, record the temperature.

    Dealing With Your Child’s Fever

    The question is when and if to treat your child’s fever. A recent survey found that parents tend to treat high temperatures much more aggressively than health care professionals do. Investigators found that only 43% of parents (compared to 86% of doctors and 64% of nurses) knew that a fever below 100.4 F could be beneficial to a child. Most parents (compared to only 11% of doctors) reported that they would treat a fever below 100.4 F even if they did not have any other symptoms. In summary, most doctors agree that parents should not attempt to reduce a low-grade fever (96.5 to 100 F). Low-grade fevers are very helpful at fighting foreign substances and killing off infections.

    The following steps can be helpful in lowering your child’s fever:

  • Hydrate your child with water and fresh, natural fruit juice. Avoid sugary fruit juices or pops that contain white sugar. White sugar is known to suppress immune system functioning.
  • If your child has no appetite for a couple of days, do not force-feed them. Loss of appetite is an adaptive response associated with fever that allows the body to deal with the problem at hand.
  • Dress your child in loose, light clothing.
  • Bathing your child in lukewarm water can help lower body temperature.
  • Ensure your child gets plenty of sleep and rest.
  • If medicating your child’s fever, avoid all aspirin medications. Aspirin has been associated with the development of Reye’s syndrome in children, a potentially fatal illness. Acetaminophen or Tylenol is recommended. Consult your doctor prior to medicating an infant younger than six months.

    When Should You Call Your Doctor?
  • If a child under the age of three months develops a fever
  • If your child is convulsing or hallucinating
  • If your child’s fever has not changed in over three days
  • If your child is complaining of stiff neck
  • If your child has repeated vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • If your child’s fever is 104 F or over orally or 103 F in the armpit


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