There’s not much more worrying for a parent than attending to your little one in the dead of night and discovering they are burning up with fever. What should you do – and when should you be overly concerned?
Fever in a baby or small child is one of the most common reasons parents call for an after hours doctor home visit. It is always distressing for a parent when their little one shows signs of illness, and fever is no exception. Although fever can occasionally be cause for concern, most are harmless and caused by mild infections.
Here are five things you should know if you suspect your baby might be suffering from a fever.
1. What is a fever?
A child’s normal temperature is usually between 36.50°C and 37.50°C. Any temperature above 37.50°C is classified as a fever. Fevers are common in babies and young children because their immune systems are immature (and they like to put their fingers in all sorts of weird and wonderful places!). Raising their internal thermostat is the immune system’s natural defence against an invasion from common nasties like viruses and bacteria. So, although you may be worried about your baby’s fever, bear in mind that it may just be bub’s body putting his or her recovery wheels in motion.
2. How to take a temperature
It’s a good idea to get your thermometer out if your baby:
- feels hot
- is off their food
- has a runny nose
- is being unusually fussy
- looks flushed
- is having trouble sleeping
- is crying excessively.
There are a number of ways you can check your child’s temperature, but the most common way is to measure from the mouth or the armpit using a digital or infrared device. Ear thermometers are quick and easy to use, but often on the pricier side. Be sure to follow the instructions as every thermometer is different.
3. How to keep them comfortable
Here are some steps you can take to help reduce your child’s temperature and discomfort:
- Dress your baby in layers so it’s easy to remove or add clothing if their temperature is fluctuating (which is common with a fever).
- Babies are prone to dehydration during fever so it’s important to keep their fluids up with breast milk or cool water.
- Depending on your baby’s age, you can give them paracetamol or pain relief if you think they need it, but make sure you follow the medication’s instructions and consider his or her weight, as well as age, when working out the right dose. Never give aspirin or medicine containing ibuprofen to babies under six months old.
- Treat the symptoms, not the temperature. Often babies (and children) can have a fever but feel fine.
- Continue to monitor them and make sure they’re comfortable and pain free until the fever has resolved.
4. When to seek medical help
While you can often provide comfort and relief to your baby while he or she has a mild fever, it is also important to know when to seek medical help. You should see a doctor if your baby:
- is under six months. It is always a good idea for young babies to be checked out by a doctor as their immune systems are particularly weak at this age.
- is not responding to paracetamol
- is vomiting or has frequent diarrhoea
- has accompanying symptoms such as an earache, sore throat or rash
- has a fever for more than 24 hours
- is refusing to drink
- is unusually pale, weak or drowsy
- is causing you concern and you are worried about the fever or any other symptoms associated with the fever.
Most of the children I see with a fever in the after hours will exhibit one or more of the symptoms listed above. In most cases the cause is a virus, but my role is to exclude more severe cases of infection such as pneumonia, or the consequences of fever such as dehydration, which require more intense treatment. For more information about fevers in babies, check out this infographic at 13SICK.
5. When to go straight to hospital
Taking your baby to the Emergency Department (ED) is daunting for any parent, especially if you have other little ones at home, but you must visit your hospital’s ED immediately if your baby presents any of the following symptoms:
- Severe vomiting, unable to keep down fluids
- Difficulty / abnormally-paced breathing
- Presenting a bulging fontanel (soft spot on front of head)
- Fitting or convulsing
- Very stiff or rigid neck
- Fever when your child is under one month of age
Also worth knowing …What are febrile convulsions?
A febrile convulsion is a fit or seizure that occurs in small children that’s triggered by a sudden change in body temperature (fever). They happen to one in 30 children between the ages of six months and six years old and, while they can be alarming to witness, they don’t usually last any longer than five minutes and the child is often fine following the episode (besides some minor irritation or sleepiness).
If your child does start to convulse, it’s important to lay them on their side and ensure nothing is in their mouth. Try to time their fits so you can give your doctor as much information as possible.
If the fit lasts beyond five minutes, or your child has difficulty breathing or is very sick after the fit, call an ambulance or take them to your nearest hospital’s ED immediately.
It is a parent’s nature to be concerned when their child is feverish, especially at a young age, but it’s important to remember that a fever rarely spells serious illness. Monitor your child’s symptoms, keep them comfortable and if needed, consult your GP.
If you need a doctor urgently and your GP is closed, call or click 13SICK, or use the 13SICK App to book a bulk-billed, after-hours home visit. Their doctors provide quality care to babies and children suffering from fevers, and provide much-needed relief to worried parents.
Dr Umberto Russo MBBS (Adelaide) FRACGP is Chief Medical Officer at 13SICK, National Home Doctor Service. He has more than 25 years’ experience both as a General Practitioner and a visiting home doctor, with a special interest in urgent medical care.
(This post was originally published on 13SICK.com.au. For more information visit the 13SICK Mothers’ Room)