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Home / News and Events / General News / How High is Too High For a Child’s Fever?
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How High is Too High For a Child’s Fever?
 
March 20, 2015
Media Contact:
Matt Batcheldor, 615-322-4747, matt.batcheldor@vanderbilt.edu

One of the most common questions pediatricians hear about fevers is “How high is too high?” The answer: A fever in itself is not dangerous, but may be an indication of something else that needs medical attention, said Mary Kay Bartek, M.D., a general pediatrician at Vanderbilt’s After-Hours Clinic in Mt. Juliet.

A fever is defined as a temperature of more than 100.4 degrees. “Fevers occur when a person’s immune system is activated, usually due to an infection,” Bartek said. “As part of the activation of the immune system, the body’s internal thermostat, which is in the brain, gets reset to a higher temperature, causing a fever. The fever may help the immune system fight off the infection. Since the body itself is resetting its internal thermostat, an otherwise healthy body will not reset its temperature to a level that is dangerous for itself. So, really, a fever will never get too high.”

But Bartek said the degree of the fever is not the most important factor in deciding whether to see a doctor. Rather, here are some times when a child with a fever should be seen:

  • If fever occurs in infants younger than 6 months. They are more susceptible to infection.
  • If a child is working hard to breathe. Signs include rapid breathing, flaring nostrils, and the skin pulling in between the ribs, below the rib cage or above the collar bones when breathing. See the doctor right away.
  • If a child is dehydrated. Signs include a dry mouth, decreased urine and decreased tears.
  • If a child has had a fever for five days or longer. Have a doctor examine why the fever is continuing.
  • If a child is not responding to you normally. But a child with a fever is most likely OK if he or she is older than 6 months, has gotten all scheduled vaccines, and is otherwise breathing, drinking and acting normally.

If fevers aren’t dangerous, why treat them? Children often feel better once their fever goes down. They may be treated with acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) or if they are 6 months or older, they may be treated with ibuprofen (the active ingredient in Motrin and Advil).  If you have questions about the dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen, check with your pediatrician’s office for guidance.

 
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