As is the case with any health concern for your child, please call your pediatrician if you have questions or need advice on this topic.
Fevers in children are common. So are the fever-related concerns of parents and caregivers … especially during COVID-19.
After an increase in pediatrician visits due to fever, UC Davis chief of pediatric infectious diseases Dean Blumberg and UC Davis pediatrician Lena van der List are revisiting some long-held myths and questions that are keeping kids and parents up at night. Here they outline what normal body temperature is and does, what to look for when your child has a fever and when to take it more seriously.
According to van der List, it is normal to have some fluctuation in body temperature from one degree below 98.6 to one above. Lower body temperatures usually occur early in the day and higher temperatures occur in the afternoon.
Considered to be 100.4 Fahrenheit or higher, a fever is the body’s way of mounting a defense so conditions are less favorable for viruses or bacteria. Pyrogens - which are biochemical substances - float by the hypothalamus area of the brain and trigger the body to say, “something is off.”
“You might think of the hypothalamus as the body’s thermostat,” Lena van der List said. “It’s not a bad thing to have a fever when you’re sick.”
Because their immune systems are still developing, kids may create pyrogens for each new infection they come in contact with. Alternatively, adults may have already created immunity to those infections.
“There is a common myth that if you don’t treat the fever, it will keep going higher. This is not true either,” Blumberg said.
“Depending on how uncomfortable your child appears, not every fever needs to be treated,” Blumberg said. “But if they do seem uncomfortable, you may want to start with an antipyretic … a medication given to reduce fever.”
Here are some guidelines if you determine you want to give your child a fever-reducing medication:
“Hydration is also extremely important, and your child will need even more than usual because of the fever,” van der List said. “I tell parents to encourage sips throughout the day, offering things like popsicles and juice if that’s the only thing their child will drink. Some rules go out the window when your child is sick.”
“Parents may have heard that fevers above 104 are dangerous and can cause brain damage. It’s just not true,” van der List said. “Only temperatures above 108 degrees F (42 degrees C) can cause brain damage and it's very rare for the body temperature to climb this high from illness alone.”
“Really, the number matters less than how your child looks or acts or how long the fever lasts,” Blumberg said. “The fever will usually follow the natural course of the infection which is typically one to four days. After that, it’s time to call your pediatrician.”
For more information, listen to the Kids Considered Podcast hosted by Blumberg and van der List.