Fever and High Temperature in Young Children
The normal body temperature range for children is 36.5°C to 38°C. If your child’s body temperature goes above 38°C, then they are probably running a fever.
A fever is not an illness in its own right, but it is a good sign that your child’s body is fighting an illness or an infection.
This unpleasant elevation in body heat is actually one of our natural defences against the viruses and bacteria that cannot thrive at higher temperatures.
It is perfectly natural for the body’s temperature to fluctuate by up to 1°C throughout the day, usually being lower at night-time and highest in the afternoon/evening.
Why Do Children Get Fevers?
The majority of fevers will only last a few days, while the body fights the illness causing the fever. Occasionally, however, fevers will be more severe or prolonged. In this case, a more serious illness or disease may be the cause.
Most childhood fevers are caused by bacterial or viral infections, and they are a good sign that their body is dealing with the infection as nature intended.
Viral infections in children can be caused by everything from the common cold to croup and chickenpox. Antibiotics cannot help with viral infections, but they do usually clear up on their own with plenty of rest and cuddles.
Bacterial infections are the bugs that we can thank for horrid illnesses like strep throat and whooping cough. They are also responsible for pneumonia, meningitis, diphtheria and various other nasties. Many bacterial infections are preventable with the proper childhood immunisations, but some will need prompt treatment with antibiotics.
Other causes of fever in children can include allergic reactions, inflammation and gastrointestinal diseases.
What are the Symptoms?
Sometimes fevers can build up slowly over a few days, and sometimes they appear and then burn out very quickly. The fever itself is rarely harmful, although it can be very uncomfortable for your little one.
They might experience shivering and cold chills as the body temperature is rising, and the sweating stage is usually a sign that it is starting to fall. Try to keep your child comfortable and ensure they are well hydrated.
If you think your child has a fever you should take their temperature, and seek medical attention if you are at all concerned.
When to See Your Doctor
Babies under 3 months: If presenting with a fever, they must be seen by a doctor straight away as it is harder to determine the exact cause.
Children aged 3-12 months: Fever might be a sign of a more significant illness, so call your doctor or seek advice on the day.
Children over 12 months: Seek medical advice if your child has a fever and develops any of the symptoms below:
- Worsening – becoming more pale, lethargic and weak
- Excessively drowsy
- Having any difficulty breathing
- Refusing to drink, urinating less (dehydration)
- Has stiff neck, persistent headache or light sensitivity
- Severe vomiting or diarrhoea
- No improvement after 48 hours
- In pain, or showing other symptoms that cause concern
You should only try to treat a fever if it’s making your child uncomfortable. A standard fever will usually run its course regardless. If you wish to give your child some medication to ease the fever be sure to consult with your pharmacist on age appropriate formulas and dosages first.
At the Cherry Bridge Station Early Learning and Childcare centres in NSW, we always follow the advice given in section 2.1.2 (page 32) of the Australian Government’s latest edition of Staying Healthy: Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services. This includes checklists and procedures for ‘What to do if a child has a fever’ while in the care of the centre. Our educators are trained to assess the best course of action and care for the child, while also following strict guidelines regarding parental consent and allergy information before administering any form of medication.
Very rarely children can experience febrile convulsions, which are physical seizures caused by the fever. The centres and their staff are trained to know when an ambulance should be called.
Every child within our care is closely monitored so that any problems or illness, no matter how small, are dealt with in a prompt, professional and compassionate way – ensuring the wellbeing and happiness of all our little learners.