How to treat a fever – a pediatrician’s answer

It’s cold and flu season. Your child has a fever –– what is a parent to do? A Norton Children’s pediatrician explains when and how to treat a fever.

Winter brings the holidays, time with family and friends and lower temperatures outside. It also brings cold and flu season. Even the common cold can cause a dreaded phenomenon: a fever.

Developing a fever is the body’s natural response to infection from viruses or bacteria. A fever is a good sign that our immune system is activated and doing its job. A fever raises the body’s temperature, making it harder for that pesky virus or bacteria to continue making us feel yucky.

What is considered a fever?

A fever is defined as a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. But the number isn’t as important as the way your child is feeling and behaving. If your child has a fever but is otherwise acting like themselves, it’s OK to not treat a fever. But if your child is acting uncomfortable, fussy, has chills or aches, then they may feel better after their fever is treated. If you are uncomfortable with the way you child appears, or if the fever is rising/not responding to treatment, contact your pediatrician immediately. Also, for infants 2 months and younger, any fever needs to be evaluated immediately, as it is a medical emergency.

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How to treat a fever

There are many medications that can treat fevers. Acetaminophen (a-see-tuh-MIHN’-oh-fen), commonly known by the brand name Tylenol, is safe to give every four to six hours. Children 6 months and older also may try ibuprofen (brand name Motrin), which is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It can be dosed every six to eight hours. Before giving medications at home, it’s important to understand:

  • The concentration of medication in the bottle –– it is possible for different brands and products to contain more acetaminophen than others. Knowing the concentration can prevent giving an ineffective dose or accidentally causing serious side effects through overdosing, including death.
  • The right dosing weight for your child — as your child grows and their weight changes, the dosage may need to be adjusted.

Do not hesitate to contact your pediatrician for appropriate dosing, including whether you’re using the correct dosing for the concentration of medicine. Also, read the label on the medication before administering.

Other ways to reduce fever include dressing lightly, along with the use of thin blankets. Also giving your child cool fluids such as Pedialyte and water (if older than 6 months) is a great way to keep hydrated and reduce fever. Cool or tepid dampened towels or washcloths applied to the forehead, underarm area and back of the knees are perfectly fine to use. Slightly warm baths are appropriate.

Things to avoid when treating fevers include cold baths or using alcohol rubs or baths to cool children down. These are not safe and can lead to more complications. Aspirin should be avoided and should be given only if instructed by a health care professional for specific medical conditions.