Even a mild fever can cause a child discomfort as their body fights off an infection or disease.
Normal temperature in a child is different from adults, and it varies depending on whether the temperature is taken orally, rectally, or in the armpit. A child is considered to have a fever when their temperature measures:
Above 100.4 °F (38 °C) when taken rectally
Above 99.5 °F (37.5 °C) when measured orally
Above 99 °F (37.2 °C) when measured in the armpit
Taking a Child’s Temperature
Depending on a child’s age, he or she may not be ready to have their temperature taken by mouth. Instead, other options are available. Parents can record their children’s temperature rectally, at the armpit, or in the ear. Rectal temperature can be recorded for newborns and children up to 5 years old, and armpit temperature can be taken for infants 3 months and older. Wait until children turn four to take temperatures orally. If the child falls in more than one age range, choose the option most comfortable for them.
To record rectal temperature in their child, a parent should smear some petroleum jelly on the tip of a thermometer. Then, they should put the child belly-down on their lap or on a flat surface, or place the child face-up and bend the legs toward their chest. Next, the parent should insert the thermometer into the anus about half to one inch (1.25-2.5 cm). While the parent cups the baby’s bottom with their palm, they should steady the thermometer with their index and middle finger, and then wait for a beep or a signal signifying the thermometer can now be read.
A parent can also record their child’s temperature in the armpit. Simply place the thermometer in the armpit, and then fold the child’s arm across their chest to keep the thermometer in place.
The tympanic, or ear, thermometer is a special thermometer. It needs to be correctly placed in the ear canal by pulling the outer ear backwards. Earwax may cause inaccurate readings, so make sure ear canals are clear before taking a child’s temperature this way.
But if the child is of the proper age and is cooperative, you can easily record temperature in the mouth. Wait 20 to 30 minutes after they have had anything to eat or drink before taking temperature by mouth, because the temperature of the food or drink may change the condition of the mouth. Then, ask the child to open the mouth and lift his or her tongue. Gently place the thermometer under the tongue, and ask the child to close their lips around it. Do not let them talk, laugh, bite, cry, or breathe out of their mouth while thermometer is there. When it beeps, remove and read the thermometer. Note the temperature and day and time of the recording. If a doctor’s visit is necessary later, having a record of their temperature could be useful.
Whichever method is used, avoid taking the temperature soon after a bath or when the child is wearing several layers of clothing. Remain close to the child while recording their temperature, and do not allow the child to play with the thermometer.
Lowering a Child’s Fever
Try to lower a child’s fever if it is making them irritable, drowsy, lethargic, or unresponsive. Also if the child is not eating well or is pale.
Medication is an effective way to reduce fever in children if administered in the proper dosages – especially because children handle medication differently than adults.
For children, medicine that comes as a liquid is often the easiest type for them to take, because it does not require swallowing a hard tablet or, for infants, chewing.
Common fever-reducing medications for children include acetaminophen, which comes in either liquid or tablet form and is given every four hours and not more than five times in a day. Or, if they prefer tablets to liquids, ibuprofen can be administered, which is given every six to eight hours but no more than four times each day.
However, the most important thing to pay attention to is the dosage amount. Doses are based on the weight of your child, but if you do not know the weight of your child, you may dose according to age. Read the label carefully and follow the dosing instructions. It is better to use the bottle’s labeled cap or a dosage dropper to measure the medicine, since they are more precise than a kitchen teaspoon.
If you have a baby who needs to be given drops, use the dropper that comes with the medicine. A dropper can also be purchased at a drugstore.
Do not give a child aspirin unless explicitly told to by a doctor. Children younger than 19 who ingest aspirin can develop a life-threatening condition called Reye’s syndrome, which affects the liver and brain. The child can experience vomiting, diarrhea, rapid breathing, sleepiness, and lethargy. In later stages, the child may have convulsions and become unconscious.
Tips on Giving a Child Medicine
Take care to give the child only as much medicine as is indicated on the label
Do not use ibuprofen to treat children less than six months old
For babies younger than three months, consult a doctor before giving them any medicine
Never medicate a child for more than two days before seeing a doctor
Never try to combine two syrups for better results, and never dose more frequently for quicker results
Helping a Child Feel Better
When a child has a fever, offer him or her plenty of fluids – water, soups, and popsicles are all good options. Avoid giving very young infants too much fruit juice, since it might cause them discomfort. Try to encourage the child to eat, but do not force food on them. If you breastfeed your baby, continue to do so even while they have a fever.
Dress the child in light clothing, and cover them with a light sheet or blanket. Avoid overdressing or bundling them. Also, make sure to maintain a comfortable temperature and humidity level in the child’s room. Allow your child to rest, but depending on the degree of fever and other symptoms they might have, it might not be necessary for them to stay in bed. If your child goes to school, let them stay home for a day or two, then send them back to school when their temperature has been normal for a day.
Parents may also try tepid sponging, or sponging their child with warm water, to bring down their fever. First, have the child sit in a basin or tub filled with warm water. Use a bath thermometer to maintain a water temperature of approximately 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or 29.4 to 32.2 degrees Celsius. Then, gently pour water over the child, and pat them dry with a soft bath sponge. If the child begins shivering, take them out of the tub and dry them off.
Calling the Doctor
The general rule is to call a doctor immediately if a child has a fever for more than two days, even if he or she has been given medication to reduce it.
Specifically, seek medical help if:
The child is younger than 3 months and has a temperature of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher
The child is older than 3 months with a temperature of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher for more than three days
The child is between 3 and 36 months old and has a temperature of 102ºF (38.9ºC) or higher
Any aged child has a temperature of 104ºF (40ºC) or greater
The child has fevers that come and go repeatedly
Fever is accompanied by a rash
The child also has a chronic medical problem
A visit to the doctor is also necessary if the child cries a lot, is not able to cry, or has been immunized recently and then develops a fever.
Call a doctor if any of the following symptoms develop: