High Fever in Children: Seek Medical Attention or Stay at Home?
Time to read 6 min
Time to read 6 min
A high fever can be a concerning symptom for parents, especially when it comes to their children. It does not help if the high fever is also discovered at a time where all nearby medical clinics are closed.
However, before you decide to seek emergency medical attention at the nearest hospital, it is important to evaluate if you need to make a trip to the A&E, or if your child can be self-treated at home first.
In this article, we will discuss the symptoms to look for, over-the-counter remedies, and when to seek emergency medical attention for a child with a high fever.
A fever is defined as a body temperature of 38°C or higher. By itself, it is usually not a cause for concern as it is the body's natural response against an infection.
Children with high fever tend to be less energetic and more irritable. They may sleep more than usual to recover from the underlying illness. It is also normal for them to have a reduced appetite for solid food and to drink less. They may also experience shivers as their body temperature rises.
It is important to note that a higher grade fever also does not mean that your child has a more severe illness. Similarly, a low-grade fever does not necessarily mean that the illness is minor. Hence, it is more important to monitor if the child is experiencing other symptoms that may indicate an underlying infection or other serious conditions that require prompt medical attention.
Some of the warning signs that your child may need emergency medical attention include:
Fever that reaches a temperature of 41.0°C (or 38.0°C for children less than 3 months old)
Having difficulty breathing
Having severe headache and/or neck stiffness or pain
Having less than usual fluid intake and/or urine output
Experiencing greater difficulty in awakening from sleep
Interacting with you lesser than usual
Feeling confused and disoriented
Feeding poorly and vomiting
Seizures or fit
Developing new symptoms like abdominal pain or rash / purple spots
If your child's fever is accompanied by any of the warning signs listed above, it may indicate a serious condition and you should seek emergency medical attention at a hospital's A&E department.
If your child's condition is stable and they are not experiencing any of the warning signs, you can try to reduce the fever with over-the-counter medications and keep them hydrated, and see a doctor during clinic hours if the fever persists for more than 72 hours (or 24 hours for children less than 2 years old).
When in doubt, parents or caregivers should contact the child's healthcare provider to get further advice on the available treatment options.
If your child's condition is stable and they are not experiencing any of the warning signs mentioned above, you can try to reduce the fever with over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. These medications can typically help to lower your child's body temperature by 1 - 2°C and relieve any discomfort they may be experiencing.
Do note that you will also need to know exactly how much medication to give your baby/child, which may be based on his/her weight and not age. To be safe, parents should consult a doctor or pharmacist to check the correct dosage, especially if the child’s weight has significantly changed since the last visit to the doctor.
For the first line of treatment, paracetamol can be used every 4 hours (if the temperature is above 38.5°C) to 6 hours (if the temperature is below 38.5°C). Do not use paracetamol in infants less than 3 months old.
Ibuprofen can be given every 6 hours if the temperature is persistently above 38.5°C, 1 to 2 hours after giving paracetamol. Do not use ibuprofen in infants less than 6 months old. For infants between 6 months and less than 1 year old, ibuprofen can be given every 8 hours.
It is also important to keep your child hydrated by offering plenty of fluids, such as water, ice pops, or clear fruit juices. You should also dress your child in light clothing to allow heat exchange and keep the room cool and well ventilated.
Check the temperature of your child every 4 hours in the day to monitor the condition.
It is not advisable to use ice/cold water to bring a high fever down as it may cause chills or shivering, further raising the baby’s temperature. Instead, use tap or lukewarm water and apply a cool compress to the forehead, nape of neck, armpits, neck and groin area, for no more than 30 minutes at one time. If your child starts to shiver, stop the sponging.
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A high fever in children can be a sign of a serious condition and it is important to recognize the symptoms that indicate your child needs emergency medical attention.
Stocking up on over-the-counter remedies such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, together with proper hydration can help to reduce the fever and relieve any discomfort for non-emergency cases.
That being said, it is essential to seek medical attention if your child is experiencing any of the warning signs, such as difficulty breathing, severe headache, neck pain, lethargy, seizures, or a rash.
By being aware of the symptoms and seeking the appropriate medical attention, you can ensure that your child receives the right care they need to recover from their high fever.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. To get professional healthcare advice, you can reach out to your healthcare provider or any of our pharmacists via WhatsApp* here*.