Fever is one of the most common reasons for parents to visit an emergency department with their child or infant. Fever itself is not an illness, but a symptom for a wide range of conditions. An elevated body temperature is part of the body’s normal response to fighting infection.
A child’s normal body temperature varies considerably, from 97.5 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature tends to be lowest in the morning, and then rises as the day progresses and during activity. In children, a fever is defined as a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or an oral temperature above 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
If the illness accompanying a fever doesn’t appear serious, you can help your child by not over-dressing him and encouraging him to frequently drink small amounts of clear liquid. Don’t rely on touch to judge a fever, because illness or dehydration can result in decreased circulation to the skin, which causes coolness despite a fever. When a temperature begins to drop, circulation can increase and allow heat to escape, making the child feel hot despite a decreasing temperature.
Contact your doctor for a feverish child who:
- Is under two months of age, as infants don’t have well-developed immune systems and a fever could signify a serious infection.
- Has a body temperature higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Looks very sick, is uninterested in his surroundings, is sluggish and won’t suck on breast or bottle.
- Cries continuously or without relief.
- Is difficult to wake up.
- Has a stiff neck.
- Has purple spots on the skin.
- Has difficulty breathing.
- Is drooling excessively or has difficulty swallowing.
- Has symptoms of earache or sore throat.
- Has a limp or will not use an arm or leg.
- Has significant abdominal pain.
- Has trouble urinating.
- Has any amount of redness or swelling of the body.
- Experiences a seizure.
Dr. Eric Guerrant is medical director of Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department.