A child has a fever if their temperature is higher than 38 °C. 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.
A fever is a sign that your child’s immune system is fighting an infection. A fever will not hurt your child, but they can cause a febrile convulsion (or febrile seizure or fit) in about 1 in 30 children.
Most fevers in children are caused by viral infections. Depending on your child’s other symptoms, your doctor may do some tests to identify the bacteria or virus causing the fever. Note, fever is not caused by teething.
Care at home
If your child has a fever, you can help them feel more comfortable by:
- ensuring they drink lots of sugary fluid
- dressing them in light, comfortable clothes
- giving them children’s paracetamol (Panadol, Dymadon) or ibuprofen (Nurofen). Follow the bottle or package instructions for the correct dosage. Do not give more than the recommended amount in 24 hours.
- avoiding sponging and cold baths.
Ask for an interpreter if you need one.
How to measure your child’s temperature
You can take your child’s temperature by:
- placing a thermometer under their arm pit
- gently placing a thermometer in their ear (if your child is 6 months or older).
Infrared sensors and stick-on patches will not accurately measure your child’s temperature.
When to seek help
Take your child to your nearest hospital emergency department if their temperature is higher than 38°C and they:
- are less than 3 months old
- look very sick or dazed
- are difficult to wake
- are crying a lot and are hard to settle
- are drinking or weeing less than normal
- are having difficulty swallowing or are drooling
- are limp or not using their arms and legs
- have redness or swelling on their body
- are struggling to breathe
- have severe tummy pain
- have a stiff neck and are sensitive to light
- have blue, pale, grey, or blotchy skin, or purple spots
- find weeing painful.
In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance if your child is struggling to breathe, their lips turn blue, or they have a seizure.
If you're not sure whether to go to an emergency department, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) and speak to a registered nurse.
Last updated: October 2023