I get asked this question a lot! When a child’s fever rises above 103° F, I see the anxiety level of parents start to skyrocket. Many times this results in unnecessary urgent care visits, and disruption to the sick child in needing to get out of bed to go to urgent care.
Before reading on, you need to understand this is not to be construed as medical advice, and I recommend you follow the advice of your pediatrician or medical doctor. If you are worried about your child, call urgent care, go to the emergency department, call a nurse line, or dial 911.
I want to help share the truth about fevers, help inform you when you should bring your child to the doctor, and help ease your anxiety when your child spikes a high fever.
First of all, a fever is typically the body’s response to an infection. The infection could be viral (influenza, flu-like illness, upper respiratory infection, ear infection, pneumonia, measles, mumps, gasteroenteritis) or bacterial (strep throat, urinary tract infection, kidney infection, gasteroenteritis, ear infection, pneumonia, meningitis, pertussis (whooping cough), staph infection, infection of a joint—to name a few).
Is a fever dangerous? Will a high fever cause brain damage?
A fever is not normally dangerous, and is part of the body’s natural and helpful immune response. A fever helps the body fight the infection.
It is actually not until the temperature reaches 108° F that the fever itself can become harmful (in children and adults over 3 months of age). This very rarely happens because our bodies have an internal thermostat maxed out around 106°F when it comes to fighting infections.
I heard that a fever of over 105° F is dangerous. Is that true?
It is recommended that if your child has a fever of 105°F that they be evaluated by a doctor right away. This actually not because the fever itself is causing any brain damage. It is because 20% of the time, there is a bacterial infection that needs to be treated to prevent other complications.
What about febrile seizures?
Although they can be very scary for the parents there is no evidence that febrile seizures result any any neurological damage or death to the child. They tend to happen in children from the ages of 6 months to 5 years of age, and occur in fevers over 101°F. The most important thing is to keep your child safe during the seizure. Click for more information on what to do in the case of a febrile seizure.
So, when do I need to be worried?
Any fever in an infant less than three months of age. In infants less than three months of age, a fever (temperature over 100.4° F) is considered a medical emergency and they need to be seen either in the Emergency Department, or at their Pediatrician’s office immediately. This is because sepsis, meningitis or other serious bacterial infections need to be be ruled out.
When should my child be seen by a doctor for a fever less than 105°F?
You are concerned that your child is looking or acting very sick.
The child is having difficulty breathing.
The child is complaining of ear pain (may be an ear infection).
The child is complaining of sinus pain (may be a sinus infection).
The child is complaining of a sore throat (may be strep throat).
The are no other symptoms and the fever has lasted over 24 hours.
The fever lasts more than three days.
The child is three to six months of age and has a fever over 102°F.
You believe the child is in pain.
You suspect dehydration (no tears with crying, decreased urine output, dry mouth, etc.)
There are other signs of severe illness (such as severe diarrhea, bloody stool or vomit, rash, etc.)
Your mama or papa bear instincts are firing and you are concerned about the wellbeing of your child.
Call 911 if your child is not moving or showing signs of weakness, is unresponsive, has blue lips or face, or is struggling with breathing.
How do I treat the fever?
A fever does not need to be treated for the sake of lowering the fever; however, it is important to rule out bacterial infections in the cases mentioned above. In that case, anti-bacterial treatments would be given.
If your child is uncomfortable (which they often are after the fever rises above 102-103°F), you can give the age-appropriate dose of Tylenol or Ibuprofen (it is not normally recommended to combine them).
But, remember that the fever is doing an important job of fighting the illness, so we really don’t want to suppress a fever unless it is really necessary for pain. This is where naturopathic medicine comes in! We have several wonderful tools for gently reducing a fever and managing discomfort without the use of suppressive medications.
You can schedule an acute visit at BHNM in Longmont, Colorado - we often have same day acute visits available. Dr. April can evaluate your child to help determine if the infection is bacterial or viral, and provide treatment options. Dr. April may want to do a hydrotherapy service to help manage the fever. Additionally, she will likely give a well-indicated homeopathic remedy to help the immune system overcome the illness swiftly.
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Schmitt, B. D. (2019). Pediatric telephone protocols: office version. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.Resources: