sick child laying in bed. in foreground you can see dad's arm and hand holding a thermometer.
Camping First Aid and Safety

Treat a Fever in Kids the Simple Way

sick child laying in bed. in foreground you can see dad's arm and hand holding a thermometer.

Fevers. All kids get them, and they usually pop up at the most inopportune times. Right before vacation? Fever. Special day planned? Fever. The big project at work? FEVER. Seriously, fevers have the worst timing. But when our kids spike a fever, far too many of us freak out for no reason. It’s true. Fevers are good things, but, as moms, we have to know how to treat a fever in kids the right way.

Our pediatrician even chatted with us at our last visit about how many parents fear their child getting a fever or have “fever phobia.” I understand why. Kids can do wild things when they get fevers. They don’t sleep well, eat poorly, and behave strangely. Some children can even have seizures due to a quick spike in body temperature.  I guess that’s why she spent several minutes talking with me about how to treat a fever in kids, without losing my mind.

It made me giggle a little after the appointment because she spent so much time explaining the right way to treat a fever in kids without asking me how we handled fevers in our house! If she had, she could’ve saved herself a good bit of time.

There’s a symptom tracker in the toolkit for you to use when your kids get sick! You need access to the toolkit to snag it.

What Pediatricians Have to Say about Fevers

Dr. Chow-Johnson from Loyola Pediatrics

“My most frequent calls are from worried parents who want to know how high is too high of a fever. What many parents don’t realize is that often, fevers are their child’s friend.

. . . . Fevers can actually help your child recover more quickly, especially if he or she is battling a viral illness . . . I often wish thermometers had a gauge that read either ‘fever’ or ‘no fever.’ That would definitely help parents who worry if their child has a fever that’s too high.”

Dr. Hannah Chow-Johnson, Loyola University Pediatrician 

Did your eyes just become as big as saucers? Yes, you read that correctly; she said fevers are safe.

Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson from Seattle Children’s

Here’s a video from Seattle Mama Doc, Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson of Seattle Children’s Hospital:

Still having a hard time? Here are some more less-known facts about fevers.

Facts About Fevers

There is no “magic number” that means you need to go to the ER

Nope, not even 104F degrees.

Kids do not have to maintain a “normal” temperature when they’re sick. Fever is a normal, healthy way for the body to fight common infections. Bacteria and viruses that attack our bodies love normal body temperature but cannot survive in hotter temperatures.  When your child gets a fever, it’s their body’s way to defend itself from the gross stuff.

The bacteria and viruses are the enemies, not the fever they cause.

So remember: a high number on the thermometer means your child’s body is doing its job to fight an infection.

The severity of fever does not always correspond with the severity of illness

Huh? What does that even mean? A fever is generally defined as over 100F degrees. The degree “number” over 100F doesn’t matter. So, a fever of 101F degrees is no worse than a fever of 103F degrees.

Every child reacts differently to fevers. Some kids have tons of energy and run around like banshees. Others have no energy and would rather lay on the couch and watch a movie. Instead of watching the number on the thermometer, look for signs of illness in your child. Pay attention to their level of discomfort, level of activity, willingness to eat & drink, and frequency of urination.

If you are concerned, always call your pediatrician.

Fever does not cause brain damage

It just doesn’t. In a child with a normal functioning brain and the ability to cool oneself, fever is a normal response to infection. Brains are cool. They’re built with an internal “thermostat” that will prevent the temperature from getting high enough to cause brain damage. Pretty neat, right?

The only time that high temperatures can cause damage are when hyperthermia or heat stroke happen. They’re both pretty rare and impact the brain’s ability to regulate temperature and cool the body.

Fever due to illness in a normal child will not cause organ damage.

When kids get a fever, parents freak out for no reason. We have to know how to treat a fever in kids the right way. Sharing facts to make fevers less scary.

Simple Ways to Treat a Fever in Kids

So fevers aren’t scary, and we should watch the child instead of the thermometer. Got it. Instead of worrying, we should help our kids be as comfortable as possible.

  1. Dress the child in really light clothing. No clothing works too.
  2. Give lots of fluids, ice chips and popsicles (Pedialyte freezer pops are a favorite here!)
  3. Tepid bath
  4. Place a cool washcloth on their forehead
  5. Give fever reducers only if your child becomes uncomfortable, not solely to reduce the temperature.

There’s a symptom tracker in the toolkit for you to use when your kids get sick! You need access to the toolkit to snag it.

When Does a Fever Need Medical Attention?

When Not to Worry About Child Fevers

  • Low-grade fevers
    • Generally not serious
    • Easily treated at home
    • Can wait until the morning to be evaluated by your doctor if needed
  • Fevers of 101 to 103F degrees
    • Generally not serious
    • Easily treated at home
    • Can wait until morning to be evaluated, except as indicated below.
  • High fevers of 104F degrees or higher that quickly come down to 100 or 101 with the tricks above measures are also generally not serious and can wait until morning.

When to Seek Medical Attention

It’s important when you treat a fever in kids to know when you must get more help.

  • A child who is less than 8 weeks old and has a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher should be seen by a doctor immediately
  • A child who is undergoing chemotherapy or has a compromised immune system
  • If there is no clear source for the child’s fever (no cough, runny nose or known pain) and the fever has lasted for 2-3 days
  • If a fever lasts for more than 5 days, see a doctor, even if your child looks well.
  • If your child of any age has one or more of the following symptoms, you should call your doctor right away:
    • Fevers of 104F- degrees or higher that don’t come down to 101 or 102  with home treatment.
    • Lethargy – this means more than your child just isn’t acting right or laying quietly in your arms. Lethargy refers to your child being limp, lifeless, unresponsive or won’t make eye contact.
    • Irritability – this means more than just fussiness, fevers make kids cranky. Heck, they make me cranky as an adult. A truly irritable child will cry for hours with minimal verbal interaction and is almost impossible to console.
    • Meningitis – symptoms are high fever, stiff neck or pain in the back of the neck, vomiting, headache, bright light hurts the eyes.

fever infographic

Phew. That’s a TON of information about how to treat a fever in kids- the right way.

Basically, the simple way to treat a fever is to STOP WORRYING and treat the child, not the number on the thermometer.

Remember, fevers are the body’s natural response to infection, and not necessarily a sign that something serious is taking place. And, low-grade fevers are generally not serious and are be easily treated at home.

Thoughif you have a “gut feeling” that your child is seriously ill, contact your doctor right away. 

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Until Next time! Chrissie







Janice E. SullivanHenry C. Farrarthe Section on Clinical Pharmacology and TherapeuticsCommittee on Drugs, 

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