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Fever in Kids: When To Worry and Other Warning Signs

    Fever in Kids: When To Worry and Other Warning Signs

    Fever is one of the most notable symptoms of an unwell child. However, since fever is associated with many illnesses, it’s sometimes hard to point out why kids develop it. Here’s what you need to know about fever in kids and when to worry about it.

    Signs and Symptoms of an Unwell Child and What They Mean

    What is Fever?

    We understand that fever denotes a high body temperature, but when does a child develop a fever?

    The exact temperature for fever varies, but parents can generally say that their little one has a fever if their axillary (underarm) temperature exceeds 37.5 C.

    However, there are some considerations.

    For instance, if you’re taking a child’s temperature rectally, then you may consider them febrile (with fever) if the reading reaches 38 C or higher. Similarly, body temperature changes throughout the day; it tends to increase during physical activity and is highest in the afternoon.

    Possible Causes of Fever in Children

    At this point, you must be wondering: what conditions trigger fever in kids and when should I worry about it? According to experts, acute fever or those that last for less than 14 days usually happens due to an infection.

    You see, it’s less likely for pathogens like bacteria and viruses to survive if their environment is hot. For this reason, the brain purposely increases our body temperature when there’s an infection.

    Respiratory Infections

    First on our list is respiratory infection, which includes conditions like colds and flu. If it’s a respiratory infection, your child will most likely exhibit other symptoms like:

    • Sore throat
    • Runny nose
    • Red eyes
    • Coughing
    • Swollen lymph nodes
    • Hoarseness

    If they have the flu, they may also have headaches, body aches, and fatigue.

    Important:

    Bring your child to the doctor immediately if they:

    • Develop fast breathing, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing
    • Are wheezing (high pitched sound when exhaling)
    • Appear unresponsive
    • Excessively vomit

    Gastroenteritis

    Gastroenteritis is a condition where the stomach or intestines sustain inflammation. The most common causes of gastroenteritis are viral or bacterial food poisoning and intestinal parasites.

    A child may have gastroenteritis if he or she has a fever and the following symptoms:

    Important:

    Bring your child to the doctor immediately if they:

    • Show signs of dehydration
    • Have blood or greenish tinge in their vomit
    • Have blood or pus in their stool
    • Complain of severe abdominal pain
    • Develop yellow tinge in their eyes or skin

    Ear Infections

    Another common cause of fever in children is ear infection, usually after they experience allergy or colds.

    Besides fever, kids with ear infections may also exhibit the following symptoms:

    • Complaining of ear pain and crying because of it
    • Difficulty hearing
    • Fluids draining from the ears
    • Difficulty sleeping

    Important:

    If your child develops ear infection symptoms, bring them to the doctor as they might need antibiotic treatment to clear the infection.

    fever in kids

    Tonsillitis

    Should your child develop a fever, you can ask them if they have a sore throat or find it painful to swallow. If that’s the case, they might have tonsillitis. Other symptoms include:

    • Enlarged glands in the neck
    • Hoarseness
    • Headache

    Important:

    Bring your child to the doctor immediately if they:

    • Have severe sore throat or one that persists for more than a few days
    • Develop difficulty breathing
    • Develop stiff neck (may be indicative of meningitis, a severe infection)

    Urinary Tract Infections

    And finally, it’s also possible for kids to develop fever due to urinary tract infections (UTIs). Other symptoms include:

    • Burning sensation when peeing
    • Dark-colored urine or one with a strong odor
    • Urge to pee, but only a little urine comes out.

    Important:

    It’s essential to bring your child to the doctor for UTI symptoms, especially if they suddenly cannot urinate at all. If they develop new pain in the back or below the rib cage, call the doctor as well.

    Urinary Tract Infection Facts: All You Need to Know

    When is Fever too High for a Child?

    Seeing that fever in kids is common, parents often ask, when do I worry about it? The answer is if it comes with other concerning symptoms like the ones we enumerated above. Moreover, your child also needs medical help if their fever is too high.

    Babies aged 3 months and younger need medical attention for a 38 C fever. Before the age of 2, a 38 C fever or higher that lasts for more than a day must be checked.

    If your child (aged 2 or older) has a fever of 38 C that lasts for more than 3 days, bring them to the doctor. Do the same thing if they have repeated fever of 40 C or higher.

    And finally, don’t forget that a fever that lasts for more than 14 days must not be ignored. It may be due to long-term infections or back-to-back infections, like:

    • Hepatitis
    • Endocarditis
    • Sinusitis
    • Pneumonia
    • Tuberculosis

    In some cases, non-infectious conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and leukemia can cause chronic fever.

    Treatment

    Most cases of fever go away in a few days after the condition that caused it gets treated. For this reason, bringing your child to the pediatrician is crucial because they are the only ones who can make a diagnosis and prescribe medications.

    Typically, to bring down fever, the doctor will give your child paracetamol or acetaminophen. Please remember that bringing the fever down doesn’t treat the root condition. However, it will ease the discomforts that come with fever and prevent seizures due to high temperature.

    Other ways to reduce your child’s fever include:

    • Give them plenty of cool water to drink.
    • Let them stay in a cool place.
    • Make sure they are appropriately dressed.
    • Encourage them to have adequate rest.

    Prevention

    The best way to prevent fever is to avoid the infections that cause it. We can do this by teaching our kids proper and regular hand washing, reminding them to avoid touching their mouth and nose and emphasizing the importance of not sharing utensils.

    Learn more about the Signs and Symptoms of an Unwell Child here.

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    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Feb 15, 2021
    Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
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