Should You Use Ice Packs on an Infants with High Fevers?

Baby ailing and lying with thermometer
Watch for other symptoms of illness that may explain the fever. (Image: Aynur_sib/iStock/Getty Images)

Fever is an indication that the body is fighting. The cause of fevers vary, but, in an infant, a rising temperature can be significant. For this reason, it is essential that a parent know how to provide home care for a baby running a temperature. Taking steps to reduce the fever can prevent febrile convulsions. Ice baths or packs may seem like a quick way to bring the temperature down, but are not the most effective solution.

Fever Facts

In infants, fever is usually a sign of viral infection, according to "The Merck Manual of Home Health Handbook." The core body temperature rises to destroy an invading agent. Other causes may include bacterial infection and vaccination. Some infants develop fevers when teething. The higher the temperature goes, the harder the body is fighting. In most cases, treating the cause of the fever will reduce it. When the temperature goes up suddenly, or spikes, you may need to perform some basic first aid to bring it down. This should not include applying ices packs to your infant, however.

Ice Packs are Out

Ice packs, or ice baths, are an old-school approach to bring down a high temperature. Icing your infant does the opposite of what you would expect. Shivering is a reply to cold. The body registers the cold exposure and tries to warm up. The shaking movement promotes friction that, in turn, produces heat. Shivering works to raise the body temperature. Therefore, exposing an infant to ice packs may raise the temperature even further when the baby starts to shiver.

Turn to Trusted Treatment

Instead of ice packs, bathe the infant in lukewarm water. Encourage your child to drink fluids. A sick baby is going to be fussy and may resist the idea, but it is crucial to avoid dehydration. Dress your baby lightly; bundling will only raise the temperature further. If the infant is 3 months or younger, call your pediatrician for advice. Over-the-counter acetaminophen can help reduce fever but should only be given to a newborn at the request of a medical professional.

Important Things to Consider

Never give a baby or child aspirin. It may interact with a virus and lead to a possibly fatal condition known as Reyes' Syndrome. Rubbing a child down with alcohol is another old-school solution to bring down a fever. This is not recommended, notes "The Merck Manual of Home Health Handbook." It may cause eye or skin irritation. Seek medical advice if your baby will not eat or drink, becomes lethargic or will not wake up, if the naval or penis appears inflamed or tender, or if the fever lasts longer than three days. If your baby is less than 3 months of age, contact her health care practitioner for a fever of greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. For babies 3 to 6 months of age, consult her pediatrician for fevers greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, and 102 degrees Fahrenheit for babies older than 6 months.

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