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Everything You Need To Know When Your Kid Has A Fever

How high is too high?
Fevers are terrible. Unforunately, though, they're very common during flu season.
Tetra Images via Getty Images
Fevers are terrible. Unforunately, though, they're very common during flu season.

Fevers are terrible. Having a fever is a bad, rotten, terrible, no-good experience for anyone, but it’s especially hard to handle a sick kid who doesn’t understand what’s going on or why they feel so awful.

Unfortunately, fevers happen, especially during flu season — which is hitting children especially hard this year.

Here’s everything you need to know about what to do when your kid has a fever.

What’s a normal temperature?

Generally speaking, a temperature is abnormally high once it reaches 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher. But there are some slight variations depending on how you take your child’s temperature, which depends on their age.

According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, these are the fever ranges for some of the different methods of temperature-taking:

  • Rectal temperature: At or above 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Oral temperature: At or above 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Armpit temperature: At of above 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Ear temperature: At or above 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit)

But remember that the way a child is acting is a more accurate indication that they’re sick than the temperature you see. Thermometers can sometimes malfunction, and ear and armpit temperatures are notoriously finicky and not always accurate. Plus, it’s normal for children’s fevers to go up and down quite a bit. Your kid’s behaviour (such as lethargy, fussiness, and decreased appetite) will tell you more than the number on the thermometer.

How should I take my child’s temperature?

For children under five, rectal temperature is the most accurate, the Canadian Paediatric Society says. Taking their temperature in their armpit is a decent second choice. For kids between two and five, taking their temperature through their ear is also a decent alternative. But these are usually less accurate, so remember that they are second choices.

For children over five, put the thermometer in their mouth, under their tongue.

Remember, when taking a kid’s temperature:

  • Do not use a mercury thermometer
  • Oral and rectal thermometers are different, and are designed to be used for one specific purpose. Never use thermometers in a different way than they’re intended.
  • Forehead thermometers are not considered accurate
Bad news: 39.2 is definitely within fever range.
yaoinlove via Getty Images
Bad news: 39.2 is definitely within fever range.

When should I give them medication?

If they’re older than six months but younger than four, and their fever isn’t too high, they might not need medication.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada suggests giving children medication for a fever if they reach a temperature above 37.8 degrees Celsius (100.2 degrees Fahrenheit) and seem really uncomfortable.

What meds should I give them?

Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are the two options that can lower a fewer and relieve some of the aches and pains that come with them. There’s no clear consensus on which is better — some sources say ibuprofen is more effective, but others say it can cause more side effects in young children.

There are a few situations where one is clearly better than the other.

Give ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to your child if:

  • They’re older than six months old
  • They’re drinking lots of fluids (according to CPS)

Give acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra) to your child if:

Use the recommended child’s doses on the bottles to see how much your child should be taking. Try to stick with either ibuprofen or acetaminophen rather than mixing them.

Do not give aspirin to your child, as it’s been linked to potentially deadly diseases in young people.

Watch: How to protect yourself from the flu. Story continues after video.

What else should I do?

  • Give your kid lots and lots and lots and lots of fluids. Water is best — try to avoid fruit juice or soda, as they have a ton of sugar.
  • Give your child an extra blanket if they’re cold, but be sure to take it off if they get too warm
  • Dress them in breathable pyjamas
  • Keep your child in a calm and quiet environment
  • Give your child a lukewarm bath — but only after they’ve taken medicine (otherwise, they might get too cold). Make sure the water isn’t too hot or too cold.
  • If your child is under the age of one, try to nurse or bottle-feed them more often

What does it mean if my kid has a seizure?

Febrile seizures, the fancy name for a seizure that accompanies a fever, happen in one out of every 20 kids who are sick with a fever, according to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. They usually only last a few minutes, and will stop on their own without causing any lasting harm.

When should I go to a doctor?

If your child is younger than six months, take them to the doctor as soon as they get a fever. Babies can get sick very quickly, and fevers in newborns can sometimes be caused by infection.

If they’re older than six months, wait for one of these to occur before you see a doctor:

  • The fever lasts more than three days
  • Severe headache or earache
  • Constant vomiting or diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • They develop rash or something else worrying in combination with the fever

When should I go to a hospital?

It’s a good idea to head straight to the emergency room if your child with a fever:

  • Is less than three months old
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Displays signs of dehydration (being extremely thirsty, having dark urine)
  • Is very fussy and sleepy, and isn’t improving with medication
  • Has a head or neck ache that doesn’t improve with medication

Godspeed, and best of luck with flu season.

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