Take a minute to take a temperature
There’s a busy school day ahead, but your child wakes up feeling a little sweaty and even turns down his favorite breakfast. As mild as these symptoms sound, they may mean your child has a fever and needs to stay home – or maybe even head to the doctor’s of ce.
While childhood fevers themselves generally are not dangerous, what causes them may be, says Neil Tracy, MD, medical director of the pediatric hospitalist program at Washington Regional Medical Center. “Fever is the immune system’s natural response for ghting infections such as the u, for instance, but a child’s fever also can be caused by heat exhaustion, severe sunburn and many other noninfectious reasons,” Dr. Tracy explains.
If your child has any signs of fever – sweating, shivering, headache, muscle aches and weakness, dehydration and loss of appetite – it’s important to use a thermometer to check his or her temperature.
There are many different types of thermometers, including those that take measurements by mouth, by ear or with a swipe across the forehead. A rectal thermometer is often recommended for taking an infant’s temperature. “Whatever type of thermometer you choose, just be sure to follow the directions for your thermometer to avoid injury and to get an accurate reading,” Dr. Tracy says.
If your child does have a fever, that alone is not cause for alarm. To help you determine whether your child needs medical care for a fever, Dr. Tracy offers the following guidelines. See a doctor if:
Your baby is younger than three months and has a rectal temperature of 100.4°F or higher.
Your baby is older than three months and has a rectal temperature of 102°F or higher.
Your child is under age two and has a fever that lasts more than a day.
Your child is two years or older and has a fever that lasts more than three days.
“Very high fevers – higher than 104°F – can lead to confusion, hallucinations and convulsions,” Dr. Tracy says. “If your child has these fever symptoms, get medical attention right away, and give him or her uids to prevent dehydration.” Also, he adds, seek immediate medical help if a baby or child has:
A severe headache or sore throat.
Abnormal rash or sensitivity to light.
Neck pain and stiffness.
Dif culty breathing.
Unusual listlessness or irritability.
Any unexplained symptoms.
A healthcare professional can help determine whether the fever is cause for concern by asking whether your child is eating, playing, alert or dehydrated. Dr. Tracy says, “If you are ever in doubt about whether your child needs medical treatment for a fever, call his or her doctor.”
Dr. Neil Tracy, MD