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Brief Version

What is a fever?

A fever means the body temperature is above normal. Your child has a fever if:

  • The rectal temperature is over 100.4 F (38 C).
  • The temperature taken by mouth is over 99.5 F (37.5 C).
  • The armpit temperature is over 99.0 F (37.2 C).
  • The ear temperature is over 100.4 F (38 C).
  • The pacifier temperature is over 100 F (37.8 C).

Fever helps fight infections. Most fevers are not harmful. They may last 2 or 3 days.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Use medicine only if the child needs it. Remember that fever helps your child fight the infection. Use medicine only if the fever is over 102 F (39 C) and your child is uncomfortable.
    • You can give acetaminophen (Tylenol) to children older than 3 months. Fever medicine lowers the fever by 2 to 3 F (1 to 2 C). Your child's dosage is ______ every 4 to 6 hours, as needed.
    • You may want to give your child ibuprofen instead. Ibuprofen (Advil) works 2 hours longer than acetaminophen. Give the right dose for your child's weight, every 6 to 8 hours, as needed. You can give ibuprofen to children over 6 months of age.
  • Do not give your child or teen aspirin.
  • Sponge your child if the fever does not go down. Sponge your child if your child's temperature stays over 104 F (40 C) 30 minutes after your child has taken acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Always give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen first. Sit your child in only 2 inches of lukewarm water. Sponge off the child's skin. If your child shivers, stop sponging or put in more warm water.
  • Have your child drink a lot of cold fluids.
  • Have your child wear as little clothing as possible. Do not bundle up your child. It will make the fever go higher.

For fevers of 100 to 102 F (37.8 to 38.9 C), cold fluids and little clothing may be all your child needs. Your child may not need acetaminophen.

Call your child's doctor right away if:

  • Your child is less than 3 months old.
  • Your child's fever is over 105 F (40.6 C).
  • Your child looks or acts very sick.

Call your child's doctor within 24 hours if:

  • Your child is 3 to 6 months old (unless the fever is due to a DTaP shot).
  • The fever is between 104 and 105 F (40 to 40.6 C).
  • Your child has had a fever more than 24 hours and you don't know what is causing it.
  • Your child has had a fever for more than 3 days.
  • The fever went away for over 24 hours and then came back.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by B.D. Schmitt, M.D., author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-02-24
Last reviewed: 2006-02-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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