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AAP Guidelines: How to Treat a Fever in Children


Hot, flushed skin along with triple digits on the thermometer is a surefire way to quicken a mom's pulse. But the latest news regarding fevers should help put panicky minds at ease. A recent clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics found it's not always necessary to give your child fever-reducing medication; as long as he is comfortable, the best course of action may be to do nothing at all.

“We strongly encourage parents to treat just the pain a child has, not the fever,” explains Janice Sullivan, M.D., a professor of pediatric critical care at the University of Louisville, in Kentucky, and lead author of the report. Fever itself is not an illness but a sign that the body's immune system is working to fight off an infection; there's also no evidence that high temps will prolong or worsen sickness.

Most of the time kids recover without treatment, says Dr. Sullivan. “Fever phobia” may have developed because of the mistaken notion that a high temperature can lead to brain damage.

If medication is recommended (acetaminophen or ibuprofen), check with your pediatrician to be certain the dose is correct, and always use an accurate measuring device, such as a dropper, an oral syringe, or a dosing spoon or cup. And thankfully, if your child is sleeping soundly, there's no need to wake her to take more medicine—she's better off getting the rest she needs.

There are certain cases when a call to the doctor is warranted. Here's what to watch for:

  1. A fever of 104°F or higher, lethargy, refusal to eat, rash, difficulty breathing, swollen glands.

  2. A fever along with severe pain, stiff neck, headache, confusion, or pain while urinating; signs of dehydration (dry mouth, decreased urine).

  3. A febrile seizure, which can occur when a fever spikes sharply. It can cause a child to stiffen, roll her eyes, or shake. Call the doctor after it's over (usually in under a minute); if it lasts longer, call 911.