It’s the middle of the night and you’re awakened by a faint whimpering sound. You tiptoe into your child’s bedroom and touch her head. Your little one is burning up. Fear takes hold. What do you do?
First: don’t panic.
A fever is simply the body’s normal reaction to infection—and infection is an inevitable part of childhood. Still, I understand that anxiety (I’m a mom too, and I’m certainly in touch with that emotion). But don’t stress: here’s what you need to know.
You can often detect the presence of a fever by feeling your child’s forehead, but taking an accurate temperature is an essential parenting skill. Mercury thermometers are no longer recommended. So get yourself a good digital thermometer and learn how to use it.
You don’t need to race to the medicine cabinet when dealing with your kid’s fever. It’s not really about treating the fever per se, but the discomfort it causes. A helpful guideline to keep in mind is this: treat the child, not the reading on the thermometer.
There are many non-medication ways to help your fussy baby or achy child feel more comfortable. To start, don’t overdress your tot. Light cotton pajamas will allow excess body heat to escape. Drinking plenty of cold liquids will help cool that hot bod and prevent dehydration. There is conflicting advice about lukewarm baths. It’s perhaps worth a try, but be careful not to use water that’s too cool—you’ll only induce shivering, which will increase body temperature. (While we're on it, here are some more natural remedies for colds & the flu.)
If you’ve done your best and your little hot potato is still uncomfortable, go ahead and give medication. Your options include acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Aspirin (ASA) is a no-go, however. It’s been linked with Reye’s Syndrome, a rare but serious condition in children and teenagers with fever.
Dosages should be calculated based on weight. The dosing guidelines on the package, usually based on age, are generally safe—unless your child is particularly large or small for her age. Be careful to avoid giving an excessively high dose of acetaminophen as this can be toxic to the liver.
Of course, this is what every parent fears. And it’s true, witnessing your child having a febrile seizure can be terrifying.
How do you recognize a seizure? Typically, a child will stiffen, become unresponsive, roll his eyes, and twitch. Which sure sounds scary, doesn’t it? However, it’s important to remember that the seizure itself is, in fact, harmless to your child. A febrile seizure won’t cause brain damage or any other serious health consequences.
Still, there are some important things to keep in mind. If you suspect a seizure, act quickly to prevent injury. Place your child on a flat surface away from sharp or dangerous objects. Turn him on his side to allow vomit or saliva to drain, but don’t restrain him. Don’t put anything in his mouth; he will not swallow his tongue. Most febrile seizures last less than one minute, though it can feel like an hour, I know.
If the seizure lasts longer than three minutes, or if your baby is less than 6 months old, you should call 911. Otherwise, visit your doctor within a few hours of any seizure—no matter how brief—to rule out underlying factors that might have triggered the seizure.
Which brings me to the topic of...
A high temperature doesn’t automatically warrant a trip to the doctor. Most of the time you can stay at home and keep your little one comfortable while the fever settles on its own. But there are times when you should see a physician:
any fever in a child under six months of age
high fever (over 39.4 C or 103 F) in a child older than six months of age
fever lasting longer than 72 hours
signs of dehydration such as dry mouth, tearless crying, or decreased urination
signs the infection may be more than a simple virus: Earache, sever sore throat, unexplained rash, repeated vomiting, severe cough, or difficulty breathing
excessive fussiness, irritability, or lethargy
Caring for a feverish child is a rite of passage for parents. With a calm, logical approach, you and your kiddo will get through it, no worries.