When a child says that they’re not feeling well, or if they appear ill, one of the first steps parents take is to feel their child’s forehead for a signs of a fever. And for good reason. While fever is not an illness on its own, fever is a common symptom that can appear due to a wide variety of illnesses. If a child is showing a fever, it’s safe for parents to come to the conclusion that something is wrong. But how do parents identify the cause of their child’s fever?
Fever alone is usually not enough to identify the precise cause of your child not feeling well. However, the appearance of a fever, and the severity of a fever, can narrow down the list of probable causes and inform parents whether or not medical attention is required.
To help parents navigate the concerning situation of a child showing a fever, here is a comprehensive guide to some of the reasons why your child is running hot.
Does My Child Have a Fever?
A fever occurs when the body's internal temperature rises above its normal temperature of 98.6 F. Your child’s temperature will fluctuate throughout the day, however any time it ascends above 100.4 F your child officially has a fever.
A fever is the body's response to a stress on the body, often an infection. Normal body temperature can vary a bit throughout the day and in response to activity. A body temperature of 100.4 or greater is a fever.
It is common for parents to ask how to best measure a child's temperature. The most accurate reading of a body’s temperature is a rectal measurement. This is the best way to measure a temperature on a baby or young child. When children are old enough to cooperate, it is ok to take the temperature orally (under the tongue). Axillary (armpit) temperature are lower than the actual temperature and may miss a fever.
The severity of a fever is generally classified by the following ranges:
- Low fever: 100 F – 101 F
- Intermediate fever: 102 F
- High fever: 103 F – 104 F
Any fever in a baby less than 3 months old is a cause for concern and should be evaluated by a medical provider quickly. Anytime your child has a fever in the intermediate range or higher there is cause for concern. Children with intermediate or high fevers or symptoms that concern you should be evaluated by a medical provider. In many cases, fevers are due to minor illnesses but fever may indicate the presence of a serious infection or illness.
Why Does My Child Have a Fever?
Most of the time when your child is showing a fever, an infection is to blame. A fever is usually a response by the brain to combat an infection. Specifically, the hypothalamus, the area of the brain tasked with controlling temperature, increases the body's temperature in response to infection.
Colds are a minor infection caused by a virus that cause cough, congestion and sore throat and many times fever. Germs spread quickly at schools due to the close contact children have with each other, and the common use of shared items. There’s hundreds of different types of viruses that can cause a cold. With some rest and hydration for additional support, your child’s body will fight off a cold on their own. Parents should keep a log of their child’s fever when they have a cold, and monitor it to ensure it doesn’t exceed 102 F.
While we can’t see them with the naked eye, bacteria live everywhere. Most bacteria is harmless to humans, but there are a few nasty ones that can cause serious infections. Some examples of infection include urinary infections, pneumonia, skin infection or strep throat.
Strep throat is a form of a bacterial infection that is very contagious and therefore a common cause of fever for children. Along with a fever, strep throat will present symptoms of a sore throat, throat swelling, and inflammation of the tonsils. A strep infection can rarely result in complications for the heart and kidneys. Strep throat can only be identified by testing, so it’s important to take your child into see a medical provider is you suspect they may have strep throat.
Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection caused by streptococcus, the same bacteria that causes strep throat. This infection predominantly affects children between the ages of 5-15 years. It usually develops after a child has strep throat. Symptoms of scarlet fever may be similar to strep throat and include fever and sore throat but the characteristic finding for this illness is a rough, red bumpy rash.
Influenza is a viral infection with many of the same symptoms as the common cold such as cough and congestion. However, influenza is a more serious illness that causes more severe symptoms such as high fever and body aches. Influenza typically lasts longer than the common cold with symptoms that can last up to 7-10 days.
Treating Fever at the Urgency Room
If your child has a low fever, rest and fluids will usually do the trick and lower their temperature. However, if their fever is remaining or is increasing, you will want to see a medical provider to determine the precise cause of the fever, and to receive treatment to get your child on the path to being healthy again.
At the Urgency Room, we have a great team of experienced medical providers who can quickly identify the cause of your child’s fever, and prescribe the proper treatment to combat their symptoms. We have three locations in the Twin Cities, and all three usually feature a waiting time of less than 15 minutes. If your kid has a fever, take a look at our live waiting room times at each location here, and decide which location will work best for you.