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Fever in children

Fever in children
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Fever and high temperatures in children

A fever is a temperature of over 38 °C or higher. Fevers are quite common in young children and are usually mild.

A normal temperature in children is 36.5°C to 37°C although it depends on the person, their age, what they've been doing, the time of day and which part of the body you take the temperature from. 

If your child’s face feels hot to the touch and they look red or flushed, then they may have a fever. You can check their temperature with a thermometer.

Most causes of a raised temperature in a child are usually not serious and can be managed at home but always see your doctor if your child has other signs of illness as well as a raised temperature or if you are worried.

You can check your child's symptoms with healthdirect's Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

If the surgery is closed, contact your doctor out-of-hours service or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222.

See your doctor if your baby’s temperature is 38 °C or higher.

More serious symptoms associated with a child having a raised temperature require urgent attention and require ringing an ambulance. These serious symptoms can include the child;

  • being listless, lethargic or not responding say to your voice
  • a loss of consciousness or having a fit
  • having difficulties breathing
  • vomiting
  • having headaches.

How to treat a fever

There is no need to give medicines to child for fever unless they are in pain or discomfort.

Paracetamol can be given to children over one month for pain and symptoms of fever. Make sure you’ve got the right strength for your child's age and weight as overdosing can be dangerous. Read and follow the directions on the label carefully. If you are not sure check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Ibuprofen can be given for pain and symptoms of fever in children of three months and over who weigh more than 5kg. Make sure you’ve got the right strength for your child's age and weight as overdosing can be dangerous. Read and follow the directions on the label carefully. If you are not sure check with your doctor or pharmacist. Avoid ibuprofen if your child has asthma, unless advised by your doctor.

Don't give aspirin to children under 16 unless it's specifically prescribed by a doctor. It has been linked with a rare but dangerous illness called Reye's Syndrome. If you're breastfeeding ask your midwife or doctor for advice before taking aspirin.

The following suggestions may help your child feel more comfortable:

  • Give your child plenty of cool clear fluids. Even if your child isn’t thirsty try to get them to drink little and often to keep their fluid levels up. Don’t give them food unless they want it.
  • Undress them to their nappy or singlet and pants.
  • Cover them with a sheet if shivering.
  • Keep the room at a comfortable temperature by adjusting the heating or opening a window.

Types of thermometer

  • Digital thermometers. Digital thermometers are quick to use, accurate and can be used under the armpit (always use the thermometer under the armpit with children under 5). Hold your child’s arm gently against their body and leave the thermometer in place for the time stated in the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Ear (or tympanic) thermometers. Ear thermometers are put in the child’s ear. They take the child’s temperature in one second and do not disturb the child, but they're expensive and the reading may not be accurate if the thermometer is not correctly placed in the ear. So read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to find out how to place the thermometer in the ear and how long the reading will take.
  • Strip-type thermometers. Strip-type thermometers, which you hold on your child’s forehead, are not an accurate way of taking their temperature.
  • Mercury-in-glass thermometers. Mercury-in-glass thermometers haven’t been used in hospitals for some years and are no longer available to buy. They can break, releasing small shards of glass and highly poisonous mercury. Do not use mercury thermometers. If your child is exposed to mercury call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.

Last reviewed: October 2016

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