A fever is a high temperature. A child’s normal body temperature may vary depending on their age and the time of day. A child with a temperature above 38°C has a fever.
All children will have a fever at some time. It is one of the most common reasons for children to see a doctor and often causes parents to worry. However, it is extremely rare for a fever to cause long-term harm.
What causes it?
More than 90 percent of fevers in children are caused by viral infections. Less commonly, a fever can be due to a bacterial infection.
The degree of the temperature and response to medicine (e.g. Paracetamol, Ibuprofen) do not help to tell the difference between a viral or bacterial infection.
Depending on your child’s other symptoms, your doctor may perform some tests to look for the bacteria or virus causing the fever.
Will it harm my child?
A fever shows that the child’s immune system (defence) is fighting an infection. The fever itself will not hurt a child but will often help your child get better faster. Around 1 in 30 children (usually in children aged less than six years) will have a fit (also known as a seizure or convulsion) with a fever. This is known as a febrile convulsion. See the factsheet on febrile convulsions for more information.
How is it measured?
A child’s temperature is measured using a thermometer. Placing the thermometer under the arm pit is the most reliable way of taking a baby’s temperature. Children over six months of age can also have their temperature measured using a thermometer in the ear.
Infrared sensors beamed at the skin or stick on patches are not recommended as they do not measure temperature accurately.
What is the treatment?
If your child is uncomfortable or irritable, you can give them children’s Paracetamol (Panadol, Dymadon) or Ibuprofen (Nurofen). Follow the instructions on the bottle for the right dose for your child. Do not give more than the recommend number of doses in a day. There is no need to give Paracetamol or Ibuprofen regularly to control a fever.
Antibiotics are rarely needed because most fevers in children are caused by viruses.
Care at home
Remember a fever is rarely harmful so it is best to treat the discomfort rather than the fever itself.
- Ensure your child drinks plenty of fluid.
- Avoid overdressing your child.
- Avoid sponging and cold baths as these can make your child shiver.