Dealing with your child's fever

Paediatrics

Although fevers are very common in children, many parents aren't sure how to deal with them. As a parent, how often have you encountered the following dilemma: Your baby suddenly catches a fever late at night. Should you wait and see what happens, or take your baby to a doctor immediately?

  

There is no universally accepted definition for "fever." In general, hospitals and clinics define a fever as a body temperature of 37.8°C or 38°C (100°F) or above, and a "high fever" as higher than 38.5°C (101°F). This distinction is important because one out of every ten children aged six months to six years with a temperature higher than 38.5°C (101°F) experiences a phenomenon known as "fever cramps," where the child will go limp, their eyes will roll up, and their limbs will convulse. This condition generally lasts for no more than five minutes.

 

It's important to understand that degree of fever is not directly related to severity of disease. For example, a child with a common cold can have a high fever of 40-41°C (104-106°F), while a child with a serious illness may only have a low fever of 38°C (100°F). Similarly, children with bacteria in their blood can still be at risk, even if they only have a low fever. Therefore, you shouldn't worry overly when your child has a high fever, but you also shouldn't treat it lightly just because it's low.

 

So, how can you tell whether it's appropriate to take your child to the doctor? In addition to your child's degree of fever, you need to consider other factors, such as their age, symptoms and mental state, and the duration of their fever.

 

Under normal circumstances, babies who are new-born to six months old have better immunity. During pregnancy, antibodies are transferred from mother to child through the placenta, preventing the invasion of bacteria and viruses. After birth, it takes about six months for these antibodies to disappear. Babies less than 3 months old are presumed to have stronger immunity.  Unexplained fever may be a signs of severe illness in this group of children and parents should seek medical advice early even if the baby looks well.

 

No matter how old your child is, if their fever is accompanied by vomiting, diminished urination, convulsions, a coma, lack of energy or confusion, you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible, including calling "999" for an ambulance to take them to the hospital if necessary. In general, if your child is experiencing a virus infection that can heal itself, the fever should go away within five days. If the fever persists for more than five days, your child should see a doctor as soon as possible to determine whether the virus has caused further complications and a different medicine should be prescribed.

 

On the other hand, if your child is older, in a good mental state and has no other symptoms, their fever is less worrisome. In this situation, you can simply continue to observe their condition and skip the late-night trip to the ER.


Parents often ask the best way to check their child's temperature. Traditionally, children's temperatures are taken with a mercury-based anal thermometer, but many parents find this method inconvenient or uncomfortable, and may prefer using an ear thermometer instead. However, for babies under two months old, armpits provide a more accurate reading.