Fever: Is It Dangerous? The REAL Story

by Amy Deibel, MD

Fever phobia is a very common cause of visits to the emergency room and late night calls to our on-call doctors. Why do parents fear fever so much? No doubt about it, a fever makes your normally pleasant child look and feel miserable. They may look red in the cheeks, cry because they feel achy, or want to lay around and sleep more. These things may look scary, but they are all a part of our body’s amazing response to fighting off infections!

Parents ask me all the time, “How high is too high? When should I take them to the emergency room?”. If your child’s temperature is 100.4 F or higher AND your child under 1 month of age or has a known immune disorder, you should always call our on-call doctor or follow the plan given to you by your child’s specialist. For ALL other cases, there is no temperature that your child can reach on their own that is a medical emergency! “Dangerous” temperatures occur when a child’s body temperature is forced up by an external source ( such as being left in a hot car). When the child’s own thermostat responding to an infection, normal fevers can occasionally reach as high as 105 F or 106 F! The higher the number, the worse your child will feel, but it is not harmful or any sign that they are more ill than if their temperature was 101 F. Fever reducers, such as acetaminophen (if over 2 months old) and ibuprofen (if over 6 months old) can be used to improve a child’s comfort. They won’t necessarily bring the temperature back to normal, but that’s okay and not a sign of a worse infection. Be sure to always these medicines at the recommended dose for your child’s age and weight. Dosing charts are available in your yellow book and on our website.

So, when should you be concerned? You should decide whether your child needs seen immediately more by whether they are breathing comfortably, hydrated, and interacting appropriately with you – whether they have a fever or not. If there are other more concerning symptoms present (severe headache, abdominal pain), a call to our on-call doctor can help you decide if emergency care is needed. A fever that lasts for more than 2-3 days should be evaluated in our office to see if an infection that needs treated is present. Otherwise, some TLC, increased fluids, rest, and fever reducers for comfort are all that is needed!

The following link is very helpful in understanding fever fact versus fiction: