Family Health Guide

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Fever: Treatment

If your child has a low-grade fever but is otherwise behaving normally—eating, sleeping, even playful—most doctors recommend not treating it because the elevated body temperature is helping to fight off the infection. More typically, however, a feverish child is an unhappy, uncomfortable one (which means you are, too). The best way to bring down a temperature is with an over-the-counter fever-reducing medication such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen (after 6 months of age). The correct dosage for these medications depends on your child's age and weight, so consult your doctor.

Do not give your child a fever-reducer that contains aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) even products described as "baby aspirin." This particular drug can cause Reye's syndrome, an extremely rare but serious illness that can result in liver failure. It occurs most commonly in kids recovering from a viral infection, such as an upper respiratory tract infection (cold, flu, etc), diarrhea, or chickenpox. Reye syndrome predominantly affects kids between 4 and 14 years old, and occurs most frequently during the winter months or following an outbreak of chickenpox or influenza B.  Reye syndrome can occur from 1 day to 2 weeks after a viral infection. Symptoms include persistent vomiting, lethargy or sleepiness, and in babies, diarrhea and rapid breathing.

If it's determined by your doctor that your child's fever is being caused by a bacterial infection such as strep throat, pneumonia, or many ear infections, your child will also need to take antibiotics to clear up the infection.

In addition to medication, you can keep your child comfortable by:

• giving him plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration

• dressing him in lightweight clothing and bedding

• giving him a sponge bath with warm water (do not give your child an alcohol bath—this is a dangerous practice that could poison your child)

Finally, don't panic. There's no need to call the doctor in the middle of the night if medication brings the fever down and makes your child feel better. With the exception of our guidelines on when to call the doctor, you can usually take a wait-and-see approach with a fever, keeping an eye on your child's temperature and overall condition until the fever breaks or other symptoms develop that may require treatment. Of course, do not hesitate to call your doctor if your child's temperature is going up or if she seems to be getting worse.