Childhood Fever

Fever is a sign of sickness. Your child may have an infection. Exercise, hot weather, and shots like DTP and MMR can also make your child’s temperature go up.

What is a normal temperature for children? Every child is different. But normal is usually between 97º F and 100o F. Body temperature goes up and down during the day, too. Your child’s temperature is usually lower in the morning and higher in the evening.

You can take your child’s temperature by mouth, armpit, or rectum. (The rectum is the opening where you pass solid waste.) A rectal reading is 1 degree higher than a mouth reading. A rectal reading is better than a mouth reading. An armpit reading is 1 degree lower than a mouth reading, and is not as good.

A thermometer measures temperature. There are many kinds of thermometers:

  • Glass thermometers with mercury – These can be oral (mouth) or rectal (rectum). A rectal thermometer is better for children under 5 years old.
  • Digital thermometers run on batteries. They are good, and work in less than 30 seconds. (Make sure the batteries are good.)
  • Temperature strips go on the forehead. They are easy to use, but not very good.
  • Chemical-dot strips are good. But they need to stay next to the tongue for 60 seconds.
  • Ear thermometers work in 2 seconds or less. They are as good as oral thermometers, but they cost a lot of money.

How do you know when your child has a fever?

  • Their chest or forehead may feel hot.
  • They may sweat or feel sick.

Take your child’s temperature if you think they have a fever. He or she probably has a fever if their
temperature is—

  • higher than 100o F by mouth or ear.
  • higher than 101o F by rectum
  • higher than 99o F under the armpit

    Sometimes your child’s doctor will tell you not to treat the fever for a day. This is because the fever is fighting an infection. Also, maybe you don’t need to do anything if your child’s fever isn’t high, and he or she feels OK. But you should do something for your child’s fever if—

    • The fever is high, and your child feels bad


    • The fever makes it hard for your child to drink, eat, sleep, or do normal things.

    Questions to Ask

    Does the child have any of these problems along with the fever?

    • Seizure
    • Feeling dull and sleepy
    • Strange breathing
    • Stiff neck
    • Confused
    • Purple spotted rash
    Yes:See Doctor

    Is the child with the fever less than 3 months old?

    Yes:See Doctor
    Does the child have any of these problems along with the fever?
    • Ear pain or tugging at the ear
    • Sore throat that won’t go away
    • Throwing up
    • Diarrhea
    • Pain or burning when passing urine
    • Passing urine often
    Yes:See Doctor
    Is the fever higher than 104o? Is the child acting very sick? Or has the fever lasted more than 3 days even if you have
    tried to bring it down?
    Yes:See Doctor
    Is the child with the fever between 3 and 6 months old?Yes:Call Doctor
    Has your child had an operation recently? Or does he or she have a long-term illness like:
    • Kidney disease,
    • Cancer,
    • Diabetes, or
    • A history of seizures when they get a fever?
    Yes:Call Doctor
    Did the fever go away for more than a day, then come back? Did your child get the fever after a visit to a different country? Or did he or she just have a DTP or MMR shot and is feeling very bad?Yes:Call Doctor

    Self-Care Tips

    • Make sure your child drinks fruit juice, water, and other cool drinks.
    • Have your child rest in bed.
    • For a high fever, sponge your child with warm water. Or give your child a cool bath. Don’t use rubbing alcohol. Don’t let your child shower. Showering can make the fever go up.
    • Give your child the right dose of acetaminophen every 3 or 4 hours.

      (Note: Do not give aspirin to anyone under 19 years old unless your doctor tells you to. Aspirin and other medicines that have salicylates have been linked to Reye’s Syndrome, a condition that can kill.)

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    Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

    Explore Wellness in 2021