Fevers in Children: What Parents and Caregivers Should Know

February 4, 2023

A fever is a normal response to infection that signals the body is fighting it off. In most cases, fever in children will resolve after three days, but if it persists for longer or the cause is unclear, seek medical attention, especially for infants.

While fever can be scary, it is a normal immune system response to an infection. Fever is a friend. It lets us know the body is working to fight off infection. Since viruses and bacteria cannot survive in the heat, the body turns up the thermostat knowing that this defense will kill invaders. 

The fever response to infection generally doesn’t go much above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). There are some instances where temperatures over 42 degrees Celsius 42C (108F) can happen, but typically they are not from illness, they are from an environment, like a hot car. 

When to see your healthcare provider

When your child is sick with a viral of bacterial infections, they may develop a fever, which usually goes away after about 3 days. If the fever doesn’t resolve in 3-4 days, it’s time to seek medical attention. 

If your child has a fever, but you can’t determine the root cause after 48 hours, it’s time to see your practitioner. And if your child is an infant, you should seek a practitioner’s assessment right away. 

Treating fever in children

Fever treatment is aimed at symptom management, not treatment to rid the body of the virus or bacteria. 

Unfortunately, fevers are not comfortable. In children this looks like irritability, poor appetite, fatigue, and overall looking unwell. 

Giving Tylenol and/or Advil (if they have not been told they cannot have it) helps treat the symptoms of fever. The fever may return when the medication leaves the system and that’s okay, you can retreat for up to 3-4 days.

Fevers and seizures: what you need to know 

A seizure from fever can sometimes occur (also known as a febrile seizure) and does so in about two to five percent of children ages 6 months to 5 years old. The seizure might be the first sign that your child has a fever. 

This can be scary for caregivers and warrants a trip to the Emergency Room. But remember to stay calm. These seizures tend to last between 30 seconds to a few minutes and don’t have long-term effects. They don’t lead to epilepsy (seizure disorder) and don’t cause learning disabilities. While Tylenol and Advil can help treat the symptoms of fevers, they won’t prevent a febrile seizure. This Caring for Kids handout has some helpful information on febrile seizures if you’d like to learn more.

The Takeaway

Fever in children, while uncomfortable and sometimes scary, is not a bad thing. Fever is a healthy process of the body when the immune system is working hard to fight off bugs. And, as always, if you are concerned, seek medical attention.

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