Fever is very common in young children. More than 60% of parents with children aged between six months and five years say their child has had one.
In children under five, a fever is considered to be a temperature higher than 37.5C. It’s usually caused by a minor viral infection, such as a cough or cold, and can normally be treated at home.
How to tell if your child has a fever
Your child may have a fever if they:
- feel hotter than usual when you touch their forehead, back or stomach
- feel sweaty or clammy
- have flushed cheeks
If you suspect your child has a fever, you should check their temperature with a thermometer. Safe, cheap digital thermometers are available from your local pharmacy. Forehead thermometers should not be used as they can give inaccurate results.
How to care for your feverish child
To help keep your child comfortable, you should:
- encourage them to drink plenty of fluids – offer regular breastfeeds if you’re breastfeeding
- only offer them food if they seem to want it
- look out for signs of dehydration – these can include a dry mouth, no tears, sunken eyes and, in babies, fewer wet nappies
- check on your child from time to time during the night
- keep them away from childcare, nursery or school – let the carer, nursery or school know your child is unwell
- There’s no need to undress your child or sponge them down with tepid water. Research shows that neither actually helps reduce fever.
- Avoid bundling them up in too many clothes or bedclothes.
Medicines and fever
If your child seems distressed, consider giving them children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen. Paracetamol (Panado/Calpol) can be given to babies over two months, while ibuprofen (Nurofen) can be given to babies aged three months and over who weigh more than 5kg.
Always check the instructions on the bottle or packet carefully, and never exceed the recommended dose. Never give aspirin to children under the age of 16.
If your child suffers from asthma, seek advice from your GP or pharmacist before giving them ibuprofen.
An elevated temperature can be quite worrying for parents and carers, but most children recover with no problems after a few days.
What to do if you’re worried:
If you’re worried about your baby or child, call your GP practice. If the practice is closed, contact your local hospital casualty.
Always get medical advice if:
- your baby is under three months old and has a temperature of 38C or higher
- your baby is three to six months old and has a temperature of 39C or higher
- you think your child may be dehydrated
- your child develops a red rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it
- your child has a fit (convulsion)
- they are crying constantly and you can’t console or distract them, or the cry doesn’t sound like their normal cry
- has a high-pitched or unusual sound when crying
- the fever lasts for more than three days or your child’s health is getting worse