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How to handle fevers in kids

A fever is usually caused by infections from viruses (such as a cold or the flu) or bacteria (such as strep throat or some ear infections). The fever itself is not the disease, only a sign that the body’s defenses are trying to fight an infection. A fever is one of the body’s protective mechanisms. It is not uncommon for a fever to last 2-3 days, usually peaking at 103-104 degrees. Fevers can be scary but they are usually not harmful. Learn more about fevers and how to treat fevers in your child.

Mother feeling sick child's forehead to check for fever

Signs and symptoms of a fever

(from the American Academy of Pediatrics)

If your child has a fever, she may feel warm, appear flushed, or sweat more than usual. She may also be more thirsty than usual. A fever can’t always be detected by feeling your child’s forehead. It’s usually necessary to take his temperature as well.

Handling baby fevers: How to take your newborn’s temperature

Being prepared can help take the fear out of fever. Keep your digital thermometer ready and accessible so you don’t have to search for it once your child is ill. Have children’s acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) on hand and check it often to make sure it isn’t expired.

When to treat a fever

Fevers do not necessarily need treatment unless they are making your child uncomfortable. In fact, fevers in children over two months of age can be watched for 2-3 days without calling the doctor, unless accompanied by these symptoms that would warrant an appointment:
  • Persistent fever of 101 or greater for longer than 72 hours.
  • Temp 100.4 or above in infant 2 months or younger.
  • Temp 97 or below in infant 2 months or younger.
  • Temp 105 or greater.
  • If temp 102 or less and child is irritable or lethargic.
  • Fever is present with another specific symptoms (cough, pneumonia, dysuria, UTI).

How to make your child more comfortable when they have a fever

For fevers 102 or greater, you can give fever reducing medication. Use Tylenol or Motrin (no Motrin for children less than 6 months of age). NEVER give aspirin to a child. Not sure about the right dosage? Read the medication dosage charts on our website. For fevers 100-102, dress lightly and increase intake of fluids. Popsicles or iced drinks are good alternatives.
  • Sponge bath using tepid water is optional. Sponge if fever is greater than 104 and your child is getting no relief from fever reducing medication.
  • Do not bundle with extra clothes or blankets.
  • Watch hydration levels. Your child should have 3-4 wet diapers/day, have tears when crying, a moist mouth and normal activity when fever reduced. 

Call your pediatrician if:

  • Fever persists longer than 72 hours
  • Fever 104 or greater
  • Child is crying inconsolably
  • Child cries when moved or touched
  • Stiff neck is noted
  • If fever is 104 one hour after Tylenol has been given
  • Purple spots are present on skin
  • Child is difficult to arouse
  • Signs of dehydration are noted
  • You have respiratory concerns

Is your child sick?

Use our online resources to help guide care for your sick child. From dosage information to guidelines on when to call the doctor, Northpoint Pediatrics is here to help.

Check out our app NP PEDS MD for further information and home care advice.

Baby girl with pony tail in white