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Fever in Children

Fever in Children

Fever remains the most common concern for which parents bring their child to the emergency department. Fever has traditionally been defined as a rectal temperature over 100.4 F or 38.0 C. Temperatures measured at other sites are usually lower. The threshold for defining a fever does vary significantly between different individuals, since body temperatures can vary by as much as 1 F.

Fever itself is not life-threatening unless it is extremely and persistently high, such as greater than 107 F (41.6 C) when measured rectally. Fever may indicate the presence of a serious illness, but usually a fever is caused by common infections which are not serious. The part of the brain called the hypothalamus controls body temperature. The hypothalamus increases the body’s temperature as a way to fight the infection. However, many conditions other than infections may cause a fever.

Fever in Children Causes

Causes of fever include the following

  • Bacterial infections.
  • Viral infections.
  • Medications.
  • Illicit drugs.
  • Illnesses related to heat exposure.

Fever in Children Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of fever may be obvious or subtle. The younger the child, the more subtle the symptoms.


  • Irritable.
  • Fussy.
  • Lethargic.
  • Quiet.
  • Feel warm or hot.
  • Not feed normally.
  • Cry.
  • Breathe rapidly.
  • Exhibit changes in sleeping or eating habits.
  • Seizures.

Verbally children may complain of

  • feeling hotter or colder than others in the room who feel comfortable.
  • body aches.
  • headache.
  • having difficulty sleeping or sleeping more.
  • and poor appetite.

When to Seek Medical Care

You should call your child’s doctor if any of the following are present with fever.

  • Your child is younger than 6 months of age (regardless of prematurity).
  • You are unable to control the fever.
  • You suspect your child may become dehydrated from vomiting, diarrhea, or not drinking (for example, sunken eyes, dry diapers, tented skin, unarousable, etc.).
  • You have been to your child’s doctor, and your child is now getting worse or new symptoms have developed.

Although you may have done your best to care for your child, sometimes it is smart to take your child to the emergency department. Your child’s doctor may meet you there, or your child may be evaluated and treated by the emergency doctor.

You should take your child to an emergency clinic when any of the following happen.

  • You have serious concerns and are unable to contact your child’s doctor.
  • You suspect your child is dehydrated.
  • A seizure occurs.
  • Your child has a purple or red rash.
  • A change in consciousness occurs.
  • Your child’s breathing is shallow, rapid, or difficult.
  • Your child is younger than 2 months of age.
  • Your child has a headache that will not go away.
  • Your child continues to vomit.
  • Your child has complex medical problems or takes prescription medications on a chronic basis (medications prescribed for more than two weeks’ duration).
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