A few months ago, my 14 month old daughter Rose woke up in the middle of the night with a fever. She went to bed easily and a few hours later, she was awake, crying and heating up. Her temperature was 103°F and rising. Like any parents, my husband and I were both worried. However, as a chiropractor treating many infants and children, I know that fevers are a part of our body’s healthy immune response. But that didn’t stop us from being slightly panicked anyway.
Many parents misinterpret the dangers of a high fever and believe they should be suppressed immediately, at all costs. We often confuse fever with being a sign of illness instead of a sign of our normal immune response. In fact, fevers are one of the body’s natural and effective protective mechanisms. Temperatures between 100° and 104° F (37.8° – 40° C) are generally a sign of functioning immune system and are good for sick children helping their bodies fight infections.
Here are a few fever related questions I often get asked by parents:
Q. When should I be concerned about my child’s fever?
A. Children can be warm for many reasons – they are basically giving off heat. Generally their temperatures should be back within normal ranges within 10 to 20 minutes. Normal ranges vary depending on the way the temperature was taken (eg. rectal, ear, oral, axillary).
Here are the guidelines for parents to seek medical attention when their infant or child has a fever (using the rectal or ear method of taking temperatures):
- Infants 0-3 months with a temperature higher than 100.4°F (or 38°C); parents should seek care immediately and continue to breastfeed often while waiting for care.
- Children 3-36 months with a temperature higher than 102.2°F (39°C), if they appear ill. Breastfeeding often while waiting for care.
- Children older than 36 months with a temperature higher than 104.5°F (40.3°C)
For children not in the above three categroies, bed rest and fluids will support the fever and allow it to do the job that your child needs it to do.
Q. What are febrile seizures and are they harmful?
A. Febrile seizures are convulsions brought on by a fever in infants or small children. During a febrile seizure, a child often loses consciousness or shakes, moving limbs on both sides of the body. Seizures are very scary to watch but are over rather quickly and do not cause permanent harm.
An article in the medical journal, Neurology, concluded that most febrile seizures do not adversely affect global measures of intelligence, nor do they harm more specific functions such as memory in children older than 1 year of age.
Q. My child has a low grade fever. Should I give her some medication to reduce it?
A. Most parents, myself included, want to do everything we can to help our children feel better. However in the case of a fever, the best medicine is to support the fever and let it run its course. A fever of 102°F to 103°F is considered the optimal defense against microbes.
Supporting your child’s fever means keeping him or her comfortable and resting. Offering plenty of fluids and keeping them cool by removing layers. Don’t force food. Generally children have reduced appetites when fighting infections – let her determine when and what she eats. Keep in mind, sugary foods often delay the natural immune response.
Medication is not always needed to reduce a child’s temperature. In fact, the best reason for giving your child medicine is not to reduce the fever, but to relieve any aches and pains.
Here is the American Academy of Pediatrics advice to parents as found on their website:
“Fevers generally do not need to be treated with medication unless your child is uncomfortable or has a history of febrile convulsions. The fever may be important in helping your child fight the infection”
Remember moms and dads: Fever is one of the good guys.
Suppressing a fever will only delay your child’s natural immune response to help fight the infection. Instead supporting a fever will help your child feel better, faster!
And we all want happy, healthy babies after all!
Neurology (July 10 2001; 57:7-8, 37-42)
www.mercola.com (Dr. Mercola)
www.aap.org (American Academy of Pediatrics)