Fever in children: When should parents consult a doctor?

By: Osler Health International
Posted on: 21 Feb 2024

Seeing your child experiencing a fever can cause concern for any parent. In most cases, a fever is the body’s natural defence mechanism at work, fighting infections and illnesses. However, at times, it may be a sign of a serious condition that may need medical attention. It’s important to understand when a fever is just a part of the body’s natural response and when it signals the need for medical attention so you can manage your child’s health effectively.

What temperature is considered a fever?

Fever occurs when the body’s internal “thermostat” raises the body temperature above the normal range, around 36.4°C.

In children, the following temperatures are typically considered fever:

  • 37.3°C and above under the armpit
  • 37.5°C and above orally
  • 37.8°C and above in the ear

What are the primary causes of fever in children?

Fevers may manifest in children due to the following:

Viral infections

The most common cause of fever in children is viral infections. Some of the conditions that may cause fever symptoms include:

  • Upper respiratory tract infections (common cold): Symptoms include a sore throat, congestion, and cough.
  • Influenza (flu): Presents with headache, chills, muscle soreness, overall weakness, cough, and sore throat.
  • Gastroenteritis (stomach flu): Characterised by vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and dehydration.
  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease: Features a blister-like rash on hands, feet, buttocks, tongue, and inside the mouth.
  • Dengue fever: Symptoms include headache, muscle and joint pain, and rash.
  • Chickenpox: Identified by a blister-like rash across the body.

Bacterial infections

While not as common as viral infections, bacterial infections can also lead to fever. Examples of bacterial infections that can have fever as a symptom include pneumonia, urinary tract infections (indicated by foul-smelling urine and reduced urine output), and kidney infections.

Immunisations

Children, especially babies, may experience a fever following immunisation, such as after the DTaP vaccine. Vaccines trigger the immune system to develop protection against specific bacteria or viruses, and fevers related to immunisations are typically short-lived.

Inflammatory conditions

Conditions and reactions that cause inflammation, such as Kawasaki Disease (marked by prolonged fever, red eyes, body rash, and swelling of the lips, tongue, feet, and hands, along with swollen lymph nodes in the neck). Moreover, certain types of arthritis, like Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis or tumours, can result in fever.

How to manage your child’s fever at home

Managing fever in children appropriately at home can be crucial in ensuring their comfort and mitigating the risk of developing a high fever or further complications.

Here are a few things to consider to manage a fever at home:

Keep your child hydrated

Fever increases the body’s metabolism, leading to quicker fluid loss, primarily through sweating. This heightened risk of dehydration requires offering your child plenty of fluids. Water is best, but electrolyte solutions or oral rehydration solutions can also be beneficial, especially if the child is experiencing vomiting or diarrhoea. Encourage small, frequent sips to make it easier for them, especially if they’re feeling unwell.

Dress in light clothing

Overdressing a child with a fever can trap body heat and elevate their temperature further. So, opt for lightweight, breathable fabrics that allow heat to escape and air to circulate over their skin. It’s also advisable to use a light blanket if necessary and to adjust as per the child’s comfort and the room temperature.

Maintain a comfortably cool room temperature

A room that’s too warm can exacerbate a fever, while a room that’s too cold can cause shivering, which can raise the body’s internal temperature. Strive for a comfortably cool environment, typically around 24-25°C. You can use a fan to circulate the air, but avoid directing it straight at your child to prevent chills.

Medication

Paracetamol (acetaminophen) and ibuprofen are medications commonly taken to manage fever and discomfort. However, it’s important to:

  • Talk to your child’s doctor: Before giving your child any medication, especially if it’s the first time your infant or toddler has a fever, consult a private doctor for children or a baby doctor in Singapore. That way, you can be sure of the right dosage and make certain that the medication is safe for your child.
  • Follow dosage instructions carefully: Over-the-counter medications have specific dosing instructions based on age and weight. Adhere to these guidelines so you can avoid under- or overdosing.
  • Monitor for allergic reactions: Keep an eye out for any signs of an allergic reaction, such as rash, difficulty breathing, or swelling, particularly if the medication is being administered for the first time.

When to consult a doctor

For non-emergency situations when you’re concerned, scheduling a health screening for children in Singapore at a family care clinic can provide peace of mind. By having your child undergo a check-up, you will be able to learn ways how to bring down fever and manage their condition based on their unique needs.

However, seek immediate medical attention for your child if they are experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Fever exhibiting a temperature exceeding 41.0°C, or 38.0°C in babies younger than 3 months
  • Showing difficulty waking up. While fever can lead to increased sleepiness, they should wake up easily and interact with you
  • Appearing confused or delirious
  • Crying incessantly and cannot be calmed
  • Experiencing trouble breathing
  • Displaying extreme lethargy
  • Presenting with a skin tone that looks pale or grey
  • Developing spots that look like bruises
  • Experiencing a seizure or convulsion
  • Consuming less fluid and has a notably reduced amount of urine than usual

For more child health tips for new parents, learn about the common illnesses that children in Singapore may experience.

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