The first time your little one comes down with a fever can be scary and overwhelming. You may find yourself frantically dialing your pediatrician, consulting Google with questions (only to find horror stories) and wishing for the best way to help your child feel better.
There’s no denying that fevers can be alarming for parents. Since they’re such a simple symptom to track, it’s easy to obsess over what each change in degree can mean—which is probably why fevers are one of the most common reasons parents bring their children to the emergency room.
How should you handle the situation when you child gets a fever? Should you give a fever reducer right away, or wait and let the fever do its job of killing a virus or infection? And what temperature warrants a fever reducer, anyway? Finally—and most worrisome—what do you do if a fever reducer doesn’t do the trick?
To answer all of these questions, start by following these five steps.
5 Steps to Handling Your Child’s Fever
1. Remind yourself to stay calm
Fevers are normal. An elevated temperature is the body’s way of fighting off infection, so the arrival of a fever simply means your child’s body is doing the right thing.
2. Define what qualifies as a fever
It’s easy to jump to conclusions if your child’s temperature registers slightly above normal. There are many reasons your child’s body temperature may be slightly elevated and a reading is not considered a fever unless it’s 100.4 degrees or above, measured rectally. If you don’t have a rectal thermometer, this number changes to 99.6 degrees taken orally.
3. Remember, there’s no magic number
While it’s important to know your child’s temperature, the number isn’t the only symptom to take into consideration when deciding to give a fever reducer. Instead, once you’ve established that there is a fever, consider how your child is acting. If he or she is still in good spirits and eating well, a fever reducer may not be necessary.
But if your child has even a slight temperature and is acting listless with no appetite, a fever reducer could make them much more comfortable as their body fights off the infection.
4. Dose by weight, not age
Giving your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen based on their weight, as opposed to their age, ensures the proper dosage. And don’t be alarmed if the fever returns as the medicine wears off—that’s because you’re only treating the fever, not the illness.
5. Call your doctor if you’re worried
Since fevers can be serious, don’t hesitate to call your doctor if you’re concerned. There are also a few symptoms that may indicate your child needs additional care if they occur in conjunction with a fever. For instance, if your child is vomiting and unable to drink fluids, has a stiff neck and headache, or their fever lasts longer than five days, call your doctor immediately.
Taking care of a sick child isn’t easy, but it’s never more important to keep your cool than when your child isn’t feeling so hot.
For more tips on your child’s health, download our free guide, From Crib to College.