Blog post by Meaghan Ngilla McGraw, FNP-C
I see parents in the office everyday who are fearful about the effects of fever. I hear often that they are scared of fevers and are trying to “break” the fever. I wanted to share some information about fevers and hopefully ease some of the fear that parents face when their kids develop a fever.
First, fevers are NOT dangerous; in fact fever is a sign that our immune system is working properly. Fevers are the body’s way of fighting infection. When the body recognizes that a germ is trying to invade, the immune system kicks into gear and raises the body temperature. It is harder for viruses and bacteria to survive in higher temperatures, so the body is doing this for protection.
Commonly, I also hear the concern from parents that fevers cause brain damage. Brain damage only occurs in body temperatures over 108 degrees F and our bodies have an internal thermostat that keep our temperatures below this level. Fevers do not cause any permanent damage. Parents are also worried about the possibility of febrile seizures which happen in a small percentage of children (about 4%). These are not dangerous and do not cause any permanent harm.
A fever is defined as a temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The level of temperature itself does not indicate the seriousness of the illness. Fevers can typically last from 1-4 full days for viral illnesses. Unless your child is a baby under 3 months of age, most children with fevers and cold symptoms can be taken care of at home. We recommend rest, fluids, and over the counter medication (Acetaminophen or Ibprofen). Please always dose medication for your child based on his or her weight, not their age.
When to bring your child in to be seen for fever:
+ If your child is under 3 months
+ Fever for 3 days (72 hours) without other symptoms such as cough and cold
+ Fever for 5 days or longer
+ Your child looks or acts very sick (fever along with severe headache, confusion, stiff neck, trouble breathing or refusing to drink).
Hopefully this information eases your mind about why fevers happen and reduce some of the fear that can happen when children develop fevers.
Information adapted from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Rady’s Children’s Physician Network.