Children’s fevers and febrile convulsions – what should you do?

If your baby or child has ever had a high fever, you’ll know how scary it can be. Sometimes it’s hard to know just how serious a situation you are in – especially because young children often spike much higher fevers than adults do. What should you do if your child gets a fever, and when do you need to seek help?

We’ve teamed up with Children’s Panadol to provide you with lots of quick and helpful information covering many aspects of children’s health and development. We hope you’ll find them a great resource as you take care of your family every day.

What is a fever?

A fever is an increase in your child’s body temperature. It is part of the body’s normal response to infections, and it plays an important role in fighting such infections. Your child’s temperature will return to normal when the infection has gone.

A child’s normal body temperature is 36.5°C–37.5°C when measured under their arm (37°C when measured by mouth). A temperature of over 38°C indicates a fever. Fever in babies can be a sign of serious illness or infection. If your child is three months or under and has a fever of 38°C or above, or if your child seems very sick, they need to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.

What can you do when your child has a fever?

  • Depending on your child’s age and symptoms, you can give them a temperature-lowering medicine such as paracetamol.
  • Offer your child regular drinks (where a baby is breastfed, the most appropriate fluid is breast milk).
  • Look for signs of dehydration – sunken fontanel (soft spot on a baby’s head), dry mouth, sunken eyes, no tears, and fewer wet nappies than normal. If your baby has signs of dehydration, take them to hospital immediately.
  • Do not under or over dress your child. If they are shivering or sweating a lot add more or less clothing accordingly.
  • Sponging your child with lukewarm or cold water is not recommended.
  • Check your child regularly for rashes and to see if they are getting better. If a rash appears or if you are concerned that your child is not improving, contact your doctor for advice.
  • If your child attends daycare, it’s best to keep them at home while they have a fever and notify the daycare centre of the illness.

Febrile convulsions

A febrile convulsion is a fit or seizure that occurs in some children when they have a high fever.

Most children with fever suffer only minor discomfort. However one in 30 will have a febrile convulsion at one time or another. This usually happens between the ages of six months and six years. Most children with febrile convulsions only ever have one fit. Febrile convulsions are not harmful; they do not cause brain damage or epilepsy.

During a febrile convulsion your child usually loses consciousness, their muscles may stiffen or jerk and they may also have difficulty breathing and go red or blue in the face. When the movements stop, your child will regain consciousness but remain sleepy or irritated afterwards.

What can you do during a convulsion?

  • The most important thing is to stay calm.
  • Place your child on a soft surface, lying on their side.
  • Do not put anything in their mouth – your child will not choke or swallow their tongue.
  • Try to watch exactly what happens, so that you can describe it later.
  • If possible, time how long the convulsion lasts.

Nothing can be done to prevent the convulsion from occurring. Remain calm and try not to panic. Febrile convulsions will not cause brain damage. Even very long convulsions lasting an hour or more almost never cause harm. If your child has a convulsion, and you haven’t taken them to hospital, make an appointment to see your doctor.

This is an excerpt from The First Five Years, which is a handy and easy to navigate book, specifically developed to help parents. It contains a comprehensive collection of practical parenting information and useful tips for your child’s first five years. If you’ve ever wanted a quick guide to refer to in the middle of the night, or to help you decide when it’s time to see a doctor, this is a resource which will help you on your way. You can view it online or download it for free at The First Five Years.

(This is a sponsored post for Children’s Panadol)

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