You know why the body has fever, you know when fever should be considered an emergency, and you have purchased a thermometer or two for your home medical bag. The final piece to the fever puzzle…how and when should fevers be treated?
When it comes to treating fevers, there are several important steps. First, keeping kiddos well hydrated is one of the most important things parents can do for fever. This can include drinking liquids, eating popsicles, or even slurping on grandma’s healing chicken noodle soup. Next, medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be used to bring fevers down. Here again though, remember that you want to treat the child and not the number, so if they have a temperature of 101°, but are happy as can be, there is no need to give medication at that time. Often times parents focus on trying to get their child’s temperature to “normal” no matter what. But if a child is drinking well, is playful and is really showing no ill-effects from fever, why give a medication that suppresses the body’s attempt at fighting off those foreign invaders? While acetaminophen can be given to children of any age, ibuprofen should only be given to children 6 months of age and older. As with any medication, make sure to verify the dosage amount and frequency with your pediatrician before giving the medicine. Children should NEVER be given aspirin unless instructed to do so by your pediatrician as aspirin has been associated with a life-threatening condition called Reye’s syndrome which can lead to acute swelling of the liver and brain. Finally, for those more stubborn fevers that persist despite using medication or for temperatures running really high (such as 104 or higher), you can give your child a tepid bath (not hot but not cold) and allow the water to help cool them down.
So then if “fever is our friend” and it is the body’s way of trying to fight off foreign invaders, why should we ever treat a fever in a child? There are three big reasons:
1) Fever can be uncomfortable at any age (think of the last time you had a fever to 101 as an adult…I bet you felt pretty bad), and infants and children are no different. No parent or pediatrician wants their kiddos to feel miserable, so treating those true fevers to make children more comfortable is important.
2) When children have elevated temperatures, they are less likely to want to drink well especially if they are feeling terrible. This, coupled with increase loss of body fluids because of sweating and rapid breathing that can come with fever, puts children at risk for dehydration. If treating the fever means that your child will be more interested in taking in extra fluids and therefore, have less chance of getting dehydrated while sick, then it is worth it to bring that temperature down.
3) Perhaps most worrisome, children 6 months to 6 years of age are at increased risk of seizures because of fever, or something called a febrile seizure. Febrile seizures occur in approximately 2-5% of children, and they can be very frightening to watch. It is believed that these seizures occur not because of the degree of fever but rather rapid temperature spikes. While trying to keep fever at bay may keep children from having those rapid increases in temperature, studies show that treating fever cannot completely prevent these seizures from happening.
In some estimations, fever accounts for nearly ⅓ of office visits to the pediatrician. It is almost a guarantee that a child will have a fever at some point in their young life. But, as you can see, not every fever requires drastic measures or special trips to the doctor. Hopefully, through these series of posts in regards to fever, you will feel more enlightened as to the reason children get fever and prepared to handle a fever when it occurs.