Especially during this time of year, children are exposed to many infectious diseases, and may come home with a fever. This is not a reason to cause extreme worry as not all fevers call for immediate treatment.
Fever is one of the most common reasons for parents to visit the emergency room with their child or infant. A fever itself is not an illness, but rather a symptom for a wide array of conditions, as an elevated body temperature is part of the body’s normal response to fighting infection.
A child’s normal body temperature varies from 97.5 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit, with the temperature tending to be lowest in the morning and rising as the day progresses and during activity. For children, a fever is defined by an oral temperature about 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit or a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not rely on touch to judge a fever, because illness or dehydration can result in decreased circulation to the skin, causing coolness despite a fever.
The most common infection in children that causes fever is a viral infection, especially common cold virus. The most preventable infectious disease seen in the emergency room is influenza, but the majority of pediatric fevers do not have a serious underlying factor. Instead of focusing only on a child’s fever, parents should look at all of the symptoms and signs the child is displaying. Contact a doctor for a feverish child who is under two months of age (as infants do not have well-developed immune systems), cries continuously, has a stiff neck, has difficulty breathing, has symptoms of earache or sore throat, or has trouble urinating or is urinating less than usual, as this is a sign of dehydration.
Parents should not always be worried about finding treatment if the child (older than two months) has no other signs or symptoms of illness. If the fever is obviously uncomfortable for the child, it should be treated as necessary.
Susan Matherly is director at A Children’s Place, a service of Ephraim McDowell Health.