When your child’s body temperature rises above a normal temperature of 37°C, they may have a fever. While a fever can be worrying, it's often a positive sign that their body is fighting an infection.i And though most mild fevers generally go away on their own within a couple of days, they can make children feel very unwell and uncomfortable.i, ii Read on to learn how you can comfort and help relieve your little one’s fever – and recognise when you should seek medical help.
A child’s normal body temperature hovers around 37°C, so a temperature reading over this indicates a fever.i, ii Fevers are extremely common in children and are not usually harmful.ii In fact, while it can be worrying when your child's temperature rises, a fever is often just a result of their body's response to an infection – which children can experience up to 10 times every year.i, ii It is also important to keep in mind that a higher body temperature on its own is not always a reliable indicator of illness in your child.i Read on to find out when you should seek medical help for your child’s fever.
If your child is otherwise well, the fever is unlikely to be the result of anything serious. However, consult your doctor if your child has a fever and any of the following are true: i, ii
- The child is younger than six months old.
- A rash develops.
- Fever reaches 40°C or higher.
- Fever persists for more than 24 hours despite regular doses of baby/child paracetamol.
- The child refuses food or drink.
- The child vomits or develops consistent diarrhoea.
- The child seems generally ill and weak.
- The child is unusually sleepy or drowsy.
- Their neck is stiff, or they experience light sensitivity.
- The child is inconsolable and cries constantly.
- You are concerned for any other reason.
A normal baby’s temperature is around 36.4⁰C, however this can vary slightly.iii
With fever symptoms in babies, it’s much harder to tell when this is an indication of something more serious. For this reason, it’s best to consult a doctor immediately if:
- Your baby is three months or under and has a fever of 38⁰C or above.ii
- Your baby seems very sick.
If you suspect your child has a fever, the first thing to do is take their temperature.iii There are various ways to take a child or baby’s temperature:
- Digital thermometers: These are simple to use and give fast, accurate readings. Gently placing a digital thermometer under the armpit is the safest way to take a reading for younger children (under five years old). The temperature will be displayed on the thermometer after roughly 15 seconds.iii
- Ear (tympanic) thermometer: These may not be as accurate as a digital thermometer and are generally not recommended for use in babies. Tympanic thermometers will take your child’s temperature from the ear – but be sure to place them correctly for the best reading.iii
- Strip-type (forehead) thermometer: Again, these are less reliable than digital thermometers. They are placed on the forehead and measure the temperature of the skin, rather than the body.iii
- Temporal artery (infrared) thermometers: Though these are very quick to use and read, they can be more expensive. They use an infrared scanner to measure temperature with minimal contact to your child’s forehead.iv
If you are unsure which type of thermometer to use, consult with your doctor for advice on the most suitable option.
When taking your baby or child’s temperature, make sure they aren’t tucked up in a blanket, wearing too many clothes or are in a very warm room, as this can affect the reading.iii It’s also important to remember that different types of thermometers have varying accuracy – as mentioned above – but a temperature reading of above 37⁰C will generally indicate fever.i
While lowering you child’s fever can’t help to treat the underlying illness that may be causing it, there are a few things you can try to manage your child’s fever and make them feel more comfortable.ii
First, ensure they stay properly hydrated by regularly offering them drinks of water or milk to keep up their fluid intake and avoid dehydration.ii If your child is suffering from pain or discomfort because of their fever, an over-the-counter medication containing paracetamol – such as children’s Panadol Colour-Free Suspension – can help to reduce it.ii If they don’t like taking liquid medicine, you could try suppositories or chewable tablets. The correct dosage depends on your child’s age and body weight, so always make sure you follow the instructions on the product label. Do not give ibuprofen to babies under three months old, and never give aspirin to children.ii
It’s equally important to keep your baby properly hydrated when they have a fever. If your baby is breast-fed or bottle-fed, the most appropriate fluid is breast milk or formula. You can also offer babies under six months cooled pre-boiled water to keep them hydrated.ii
Try to keep your child as comfortable as possible by:ii
- Dressing them in light clothing. They should not be too hot or too cold. Add another layer if your child begins shivering.
- Avoiding bathing or showering your child in cold water. Use a sponge or facewasher soaked in luke-warm water instead.
It can be upsetting when your baby has a fever, and you may want to ease their discomfort by offering pain relief such as Panadol Colour-Free Baby Drops. These can be taken from one month of age, but always talk to your doctor first if your baby is under six months old and has a fever. Babies aged six months or older can also take suppositories. Extra care should be taken not to give your child any other medications containing paracetamol to avoid accidental overdose.v
To make sure you are giving your child the right medication amount, always refer to the product label for dosing instructions. Consult your healthcare professional if you are in any doubt.
If your child’s fever or other symptoms worsen, or the child continues to seem uncomfortable or distressed after treatment, visit your doctor as soon as you can.