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Child fever

Fever is a raised body temperature above the normal daily variation, which usually suggests an underlying infection. Mild feverish illness is a normal part of childhood – a natural, healthy and harmless response to help the body fight infection.

Many pre-school children develop at least one episode of fever every six to 14 months. Common causes of fever include the common cold, ear infections, stomach bugs (gastroenteritis), throat and travel-related infections.

  • Severe infections, such as pneumonia or meningitis, are in rare cases the main cause of a fever.
  • Any child under six months of age with a fever should be assessed by a health professional
  • Fever gets better by itself. In most cases, fever is due to a common and harmless illness that gets better by itself – and your child won’t need antibiotics.
  • In children aged between four weeks and five years, use either an electronic or chemical dot thermometer in your child’s arm pit, or an infra-red tympanic thermometer in the ear canal. If you haven’t got a thermometer, use your judgement as to whether your child feels abnormally hot.
  • Avoid over or under-dressing your feverish child.
  • Offer your child regular fluids. If you’re a breastfeeding mother, offer your child as many feeds as he / she will take.
  • Check your child at night for signs of serious illness.
  • It is best to keep feverish children away from nursery or school while the fever persists.

You can give either paracetamol or ibuprofen if your child is unwell or appears distressed. Neither should be given routinely just to reduce body temperature or with the aim of preventing fits. Do not give your child paracetamol and ibuprofen at the same time unless advised to do so by a health professional. If your child is still distressed before the next dose of one of these medicines is due, you can consider using the other.

When should I seek medical help?

Rarely, more serious medical problems may cause fever in children. Speak to your child’s GP if your child’s health gets worse or if you have concerns about looking after your child at home. Also seek medical advice straight away if you notice any of the following:

  • A body temperature of more than 38°C in children age 0-3 months or 39°C in children age 3-6 months.
  • Your child vomits repeatedly, or brings up dark-green vomit.
  • Your child looks pale, ashen, mottled or blue.
  • Your child doesn’t respond normally, wakes only with difficulty, is less active, doesn’t smile, appears ill or cries in an unusual way.
  • Your child breathes much faster than usual. Your child’s nostrils flare, and the skin between the ribs or the area just below the rib cage move abnormally during breaths. You notice abnormal grunting.
  • Your child doesn’t eat or drink much and doesn’t pass as much urine. Nappies stay dry, her or his mouth and eyes appear dry, or in babies, the soft spot at the top of the head appears sunken or bulges.
  • Your child’s fever has persisted for five or more days.
  • You notice a new rash that doesn’t fade on pressure (press a tumbler against the rash to see if it disappears).
  • Your child can’t walk for some reason and has developed a swelling or new lump in a limb or joint.
  • Your child has a stiff neck, cold limbs or has had a fit.
  • You notice any other unusual symptoms and signs that you can’t explain.