Monday, September 20, 2010

Do you have "Fever Phobia"? When and how to treat your child's fever

I used to become a "panic stricken parent" every time my kids would present with a fever.  Rightfully so, considering both Sapphire and Opal experienced repeat febrile convulsions as toddlers.  Then I came across this quote, "The way your child looks and acts is a much more accurate reflection of a child's illness than the presentation of a fever".  When I read this quote, I began giving myself permission to trust my instincts (as a mother and as a nurse) when it came to treating a fever.
In fact, I began to actually believe my pediatrician when he told me, " A fever is just the body's NORMAL response to infection."
To this day, a fever remains the most common concern for which parents bring their child to the E.R.
Why?  Because parents don't understand what a fever is and how to properly treat it.   
Today I want to present you with some information that will hopefully help you understand fevers, how to treat them and when you should seek medical attention.

Here we go........

O.K, are you ready for a really big medical word?  Hypothalamus!  Maybe you've heard of it or maybe not.  Maybe you're still trying to pronounce it!  Basically, it's the part of your brain that acts as the thermostat, regulating the body's temperature.  For example, if the body's core temperature or blood temperature cools, then this funny sounding body part receives a signal and begins initiating processes that promote heat gain and inhibiting further heat loss. (ex-shivering promotes heat gain). Likewise, if the body's temperature rises, the hypothalamic thermostat is once again triggered.  In return, the body initiates a set of involuntary and voluntary responses to control the excess heat.(ex-sweating or lethargy/weakness)
Now that we understand (hopefully) how the body regulates it's temperature we can move on to discussing fevers.

What is a fever?
  •  A temperature is not considered a fever until it is at least 100.4 degrees F. taken twice, thirty minutes apart, and the child is unbundled, and in a normally cooled room. According to, many body variables determine a child’s "normal" temperature. For example, temperatures up to 101F can be caused by exercise, excessive clothing, a hot bath, or hot weather. Warm foods or drinks can also raise an oral temperature. In addition, a child’s temperature may vary depending on the time of day it is taken (higher at night) and the age of the child (younger children generally have somewhat higher temperatures than school-age children.) A young child's thermostat is far more sensitive than an adult’s; consequently a 104F temperature in a 9 month old is equivalent to about 101F in an adult.
  • A fever is the body's defense mechanism against invading bacteria or viruses.  Bacteria and viruses most often thrive in normal body temperatures.  A fever or raised body temperature inhibits this growth.  This is why some medical professionals suggest not bringing a fever down all the way. 
What is the difference between oral, rectal and axilla temperatures?
  • A normal oral temperature is 98.6F or 37.0C.  A normal rectal temperature is one degree higher; an axillary (armpit) temperature is one degree lower.  A rectal temperature is most accurate because it is closest to the body's core temperature.  
Why treat a fever?
  • The #1 reason most people treat a fever is because of fear and misunderstanding.  Most parents misunderstand what a fever represents or because they're not yet comfortable analyzing how severe a fever related illness may be.  The #2 reason is because fevers can be sometimes uncomfortable.    
How to treat a child's fever?
  • A fever is treated symptomatically (also known as supportive therapy).  For starters, don't panic!!!  If your child becomes uncomfortable then go ahead and treat with a fever reducing medicine.  Acetaminophen or Motrin for example(aspirin is contraindicated in children because of the increased risk of Rye disease).
  • When your child has the chills, add some blankets until he/she feels comfortable. Similarly, when he/she begins to sweat and feels warm, you should take off clothes or blankets. Bundling him/her up when they feel warm defeats what his body is trying to accomplish. 
  • The only reason to lower a child's temperature is to make them more comfortable and to avoid a febrile seizure.  Note-it is not the height of the fever that causes febrile convulsions but how fast it goes up or down.  
When should you seek medical care?  
  • Any time a child under the age of 6 months experiences a fever a medical professional should be notified.  Their immature immune system may be to weak to handle infection.  In older children, call your medical professional if the temperature is over 103F or if he/she has a temperature of 101F for greater than 48 hours  
  • You suspect your child may become dehydrated (for example, sunken eyes, dry diapers, tented skin, unarousable, etc.)
  • You have been to your child's doctor, and your child is now getting worse or new symptoms have developed.    
Next time your child becomes feverish, remember to keep your cool!!!  Did this post help you deal with your  "Fever Phobia".  I know I'm still battling mine.
Just wondering if anyone else has experienced a child with febrile convulsions? Any suggestions or helpful hints?

***Note This information is solely for informational purposes. 



cooperl788 said...

I really like this post. I admit, I always get freaked out when Georgia gets a fever, even though I know it's natural. But since she's gotten so many teething fevers, I've been forced to take a deep breath and put down the doctor's phone number.

Crystal said...

I understand your concerns! No parent likes to see their little one sick. Often times this is the only piece of evidence we have to support our concerns when talking to our health professionals about our sick children.
Good luck with the teething and thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you