It can be frightening when your child wakes up in the middle of the night with a fever, but fever is actually an important part of the body’s immune system. It is almost always a sign that the body is responding to and fighting off a bacterial or viral infection.
Fevers Fight Illness
Bacteria and viruses that cause illness prefer to live at usual body temperature. Therefore, the body increases its temperature to create a more hostile environment for the bacteria or virus causing the infection.
Higher body temperatures weaken the infectious agent and help the body’s immune system more effectively fight off the infection. The body raises temperature through shivering, limiting blood flow to hands and feet, and increasing energy use inside the body.
Should Parents Wait to Treat a Fever?
Because fever is an important part of the body’s immune system, parents do not need to immediately treat a fever. Parents should really treat the child instead of the fever, so if a child is fussy, acts weak or tired, or feels uncomfortable, parents should take steps to help him or her feel better.
It’s important to remember that treating a fever does not treat the underlying infection and that giving a child fever-reducing medication is only a temporary measure that will decrease a child’s body temperature. The fever will return once the medication wears off until the body has successfully fought off the illness.
Do’s and Don’ts to Make Children More Comfortable
While fever is important in helping your child fight off an infection, it can make children feel uncomfortable. To treat the fever and make children feel more comfortable, parents can:
- Encourage plenty of fluids and rest. Dehydration is one of the main risks for children with a fever so parents need to ensure that the child is drinking adequate amounts of fluid.
- Use fever-reducing medications. Fever-reducing medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen are probably the most effective and safest way to treat a fever, but it is important for parents to give the correct dose of medication at the correct time interval. Correct dosing and schedule can be found on the packaging for the medication or can be obtained from the child's primary care provider. Some parents will try to alternate ibuprofen and acetaminophen, but it is better to choose one or the other.
Fever-reducing medications work by decreasing the signals to raise body temperature and, therefore, reduce the work the body would be doing to raise temperature.
However, I do not recommend external techniques, such as removing clothing or cool baths, unless the child feels that these interventions make him or her feel better. Since the fever is generated by the body to raise body temperature, efforts to cool the body externally will actually make the body work harder to raise temperature and require the body to increase energy use. Can a High Fever Cause Brain Damage?
Parents tend to worry that a high fever can cause brain damage. Fever can be a sign of a serious infection that can cause damage to the brain or other organs, but that damage is usually caused by the infection and not by the fever.When to Visit Your Child’s Pediatrician or a Local Emergency Department
Any child with a fever, who doesn’t improve after being given a fever-reducing medication, not drinking liquids, not easily awoken, or acting strangely, should be seen by a doctor immediately. If a child aged 3-12 months is acting well, drinking normally, and comfortable (with or without fever-reducing medications), I usually recommend that parents wait at least 24 hours before deciding to visit the pediatrician, and 48 – 72 hours for older children.
Babies do not have well-developed immune systems and are at risk for serious bacterial infections. Any baby that is younger than 2 months of age with a temperature higher than 100.4°F should be taken to the Emergency Department
If an infant is 2 to 3 months old, with a temperature more than 100.4°F and acting well, parents can call their child’s pediatrician to decide whether the child needs to be seen immediately. Talk to Your Child’s Pediatrician
Talk to your child’s pediatrician to learn how to set your own guidelines on how to treat your child’s fever and when to take them to see a pediatrician.