A fever is one of the most common symptoms children experience. While it can be scary when your child has a fever, it is actually one of the body's best tools for fighting infection. Fever helps slow the growth of viruses and bacteria. Shivering is common in children who are developing fevers, since it produces heat to help raise body temperature. But when fever and shivering make your child extremely uncomfortable, there are steps you can take to control these symptoms.
Assessing Your Child
In otherwise healthy children with a minor illness, most fevers by themselves are not dangerous. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as long as your child is reasonably comfortable and is otherwise healthy, there is no medical benefit of treating a fever with medication. Fever may even help your child fight an infection. But if the fever is higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit and your child seems very uncomfortable, sluggish and/or isn't eating much, taking steps to reduce the fever may make your child more comfortable.
Controlling Fever Without Medication
Some home-care measures can help reduce your child's fever and increase comfort level without medication, including:
-- Drink extra fluids: A fever can cause dehydration, which may lead to a further increase in the fever. Cold or frozen liquids, such as ice pops or iced drinks, help reduce body temperature and keep your child hydrated.
-- Avoid bundling: Removing blankets and dressing your child in light clothing can help reduce fever since heat is lost through the skin.
-- Sponge or bathe in a tepid bath: Sponging your child's skin with lukewarm water or putting your child in a warm or tepid bath can help lower body temperature.
-- Apply cool compresses: A cool compress on the forehead or giving your child a cooling pack to hold against the body can also be helpful. Cooling packs in the shape of stuffed animals are particularly appealing to young children.
Like a fever, shivering is not usually worrisome in otherwise healthy children with mild illnesses. But if your child is already uncomfortable, shivering can raise the fever and make the discomfort worse. If your child is shivering, offering a light blanket can help keep your child warm without overheating. If the shivers come on while you are giving your child a warm or tepid bath, raising the temperature of the bath water or removing the child from the bath should stop the shivering. Aim to have the temperature of the water slightly lower than your child's temperature. If it's any colder, it can trigger shivering.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are the most common medications used to control fevers in children. Follow the dosing instructions carefully. Acetaminophen is generally given every 4 to 6 hours and ibuprofen every 6 to 8 hours. These medications usually help lower fever within a couple of hours. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend giving children with fevers aspirin, since it has been linked to an increased risk of Reye syndrome -- a rare but potentially life-threatening condition that affects the liver and brain. Some healthcare providers recommend alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen to reduce high fevers. But because this regimen can be confusing, it might lead to accidental overdosing. Check with your pediatrician before alternating medications.
When to Seek Medical Help
Call your child's doctor if you are concerned about a fever. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends calling your doctor right away if your child has a fever and:
-- Has a seizure or seems extremely sick, drowsy or fussy.
-- Is taking steroid medications or has a preexisting illness, such as sickle cell disease, cancer or an immune system disorder.
-- Is younger than 3 months with a fever of 100.4 degrees F or higher.
-- The fever lasts more than 24 hours in children younger than 2 years, or it lasts 3 days in children 2 years or older.
-- The fever rises over 104 degrees F repeatedly.
-- Has other worrisome symptoms, such as a stiff neck, extreme throat or ear pain, severe headache, unexplained rash or persistent diarrhea and/or vomiting.
- Pediatrics: Fever and Antipyretic Use in Children
- Paediatrics and Child Health: Clinical Management of Fever in Children Younger Than Three Years of Age
- Merck Manual Professional Version: Fever in Infants and Children
- Sutter Health CPMC: Caring for Your Child's Fever
- Wong's Nursing Care of Infants and Children, 10th Edition; Marilyn J. Hockenberry and David Wilson
- HealthyChildren.org: When to Call the Pediatrician: Fever