Skip to Content

Fever In Children


What is a fever?

A fever is an increase in your child's body temperature. Normal body temperature is 98.6°F (37°C). Fever is generally defined as greater than 100.4°F (38°C). A fever can be serious in young children.

What causes a fever in children?

Fever is commonly caused by a viral infection. Your child's body uses a fever to help fight the virus. The cause of your child's fever may not be known.

What temperature is a fever in children?

  • A rectal, ear, or forehead temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
  • An oral or pacifier temperature of 100°F (37.8°C) or higher
  • An armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

What is the best way to take my child's temperature?

The following are guidelines based on a child's age. Ask your child's healthcare provider about the best way to take your child's temperature.

  • If your baby is 3 months or younger , take the temperature in his armpit. If the temperature is higher than 99°F (37.2°C), take a rectal temperature. Call your baby's healthcare provider if the rectal temperature also shows your baby has a fever.
  • If your child is 3 months to 5 years , take a rectal or electronic pacifier temperature, depending on his age. After age 6 months, you can also take an ear, armpit, or forehead temperature.
  • If your child is 5 years or older , take an oral, ear, or forehead temperature.

What other signs and symptoms may my child have?

  • Chills, sweating, or shivering
  • A rash
  • Being more tired or fussy than usual
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Not feeling hungry or thirsty
  • A headache or body aches

How is the cause of a fever in children diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask when your child's fever began and how high it was. He will ask about other symptoms and examine your child for signs of a viral infection. He will feel your child's neck for lumps and listen to his heart and lungs. Tell him if your child recently had surgery or an infection. Tell him if your child has any medical conditions, such as diabetes. Let him know if your child has had recent contact with a sick person. He may ask for a list of your child's medications or immunization records. Your child may also need blood or urine tests to check for infection. Ask about other tests your child may need if blood and urine tests do not explain the cause of your child's fever.

How is a fever treated?

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help decrease your child's fever. They are available without a doctor's order. Ask how much medicine is safe to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. If not taken correctly, ibuprofen can cause stomach bleeding or kidney damage, and acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Do not give aspirin to a child younger than 18 years. He could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.

Acetaminophen Dosage in Children
Ibuprophen Dosage in Children

How can I make my child more comfortable while he has a fever?

  • Give your child plenty of liquids:
    • Help your child drink at least 6 to 8 eight-ounce cups of clear liquids each day. Give your child water, juice, or broth. Do not give sports drinks to babies or toddlers.
    • Ask your child's healthcare provider if you should give your child an oral rehydration solution (ORS) to drink. An ORS has the right amounts of water, salts, and sugar your child needs to replace body fluids.
    • If you are breastfeeding or feeding your child formula, continue to do so. Your baby may not feel like drinking his regular amounts with each feeding. If so, feed him smaller amounts more often.
  • Dress your child in lightweight clothes. Shivers may be a sign that your child's fever is rising. Do not put extra blankets or clothes on him. This may cause his fever to rise even higher. Dress your child in light, comfortable clothing. Cover him with a lightweight blanket or sheet. Change your child's clothes, blanket, or sheets if they get wet.
  • Use a cool compress or give your child a bath in cool or lukewarm water. Your child's fever may not go down right away after his bath. Wait 30 minutes and check his temperature again. Do not put your child in a cold water or ice bath.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child's temperature reaches 105°F (40.6°C).
  • Your child has a dry mouth, cracked lips, or cries without tears.
  • Your baby has a dry diaper for at least 8 hours, or he is urinating less than usual.
  • Your child is less alert, less active, or is acting differently than he usually does.
  • Your child has a seizure or has abnormal movements of the face, arms, or legs.
  • Your child is drooling and not able to swallow.
  • Your child has a stiff neck, severe headache, confusion, or is difficult to wake.
  • Your child has a fever for longer than 5 days.
  • Your child is crying or irritable and cannot be soothed.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child's rectal, ear, or forehead temperature is higher than 100.4°F (38°C).
  • Your child's oral or pacifier temperature is higher than 100°F (37.8°C).
  • Your child's armpit temperature is higher than 99°F (37.2°C).
  • Your child's fever lasts longer than 3 days.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's fever.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.