The only thing that spike’s faster than a child’s fever is the parental anxiety that follows it. And—in the midst of a historic global pandemic—another thing that is elevated is our Google searches for fevers. As we head into cold and flu season, we are looking for good information on fevers like never before. It's helpful to understand that a fever is a natural response our children’s bodies have to keep us healthy and just one piece of information we can gather to know when and how to help them (and when to call our doctors).
Why we get fevers At the back of our brain sits a gland called the hypothalamus, which acts like the thermostat of our bodies. When our immune system senses a threat to our health, such as a bacteria or virus, it sends little biochemical signals, called pyrogens, to the hypothalamus. When the hypothalamus receives these messages, it tells the body to make more heat and hold onto it (voila, a fever!) because pathogens like the normal temperature of our bodies. Higher temperatures make it harder for them to survive. Kids tend to get faster and higher fevers, not because they are sicker, but because their immature immune system is more easily affected by pyrogens. It’s a pretty cool defense mechanism that we’re lucky to have.
What is considered a fever Our normal body temperature generally hovers around 98.6 degrees. All of us usually have lower temperatures in the morning that rise over the course of the day. If your child’s temperature is above 100.4 degrees, it is considered a fever.
Common causes of fever in kids
- Upper respiratory infections such as a cold or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV, which is most common in kids under two)
- Roseola (a viral infection that also comes with a rash and is most common in kids under three)
- Ear infection
- Urinary tract infection
- Strep throat
- Vaccines may sometimes cause an increase in temperature or low fever for one to two days afterward (because the immune system is doing its job and mounting a response)
A fever is just one piece of information A fever in and of itself is not usually cause for alarm. In fact, if your child is older than three months and is behaving more or less normally—playing, eating and drinking well, acting alert and smiling at you—it’s likely their infection isn’t serious. If they are over three months and their fever is under 102 and they seem comfortable, you may not even need to treat it. And remember that in these situations of uncertainty, Amazon Care is available 24/7 to help.
On the other hand, with or without a fever, if your child is experiencing significant changes in appetite, activity level, or behavior, it could be a sign of a serious infection.
What matters is the whole picture—temperature, appetite, behavior, other symptoms—and that’s what your doctor will ask you about if you call.
When to call the doctor
- Your baby is three months or younger and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 or higher. That’s because even low fevers in babies can be a sign of serious infection.
- Your child is between three months and three years and their fever hits 102.2 or higher.
- A fever of 103 or higher in a child over the age of 3.
- Your infant, toddler or child has a fever and “is not acting like themselves,” for instance they are not eating or drinking normally or they are very lethargic and don’t want to play as they normally do.
- Your child is showing signs of dehydration including babies who do not have at least four wet diapers per day, kids who are not urinating every 8 to 12 hours, are producing fewer tears when they cry or seem less alert and active.
- Your child was recently vaccinated and has a fever of 102 or greater or that lasts for more than two days.
- The fever doesn’t come down with fever-reducing medicines.
- Your child is unable (or refuses) to drink liquids, has sustained diarrhea, or repeated vomiting.
- The fever is accompanied by a specific symptom such as a sore throat or ear ache.
- A child under two has a fever longer than 24 hours or is older than two and it lasts more than 72 hours.
- Your child has a rash or pain while urinating.
- You would just feel better if you could run things by a doctor. Pediatricians are very used to worried parents calling at all hours. It’s part of their job.
Get immediate medical care if your child:
- Won’t stop crying
- Is extremely irritable or fussy
- Is lethargic, severely limp, or has difficulty waking up
- Has blue lips, tongue or nails
- Has a stiff neck or severe headache
- Is having difficulty breathing
- Has a seizure
- Is experiencing moderate to severe pain in their stomach
- Has a rash that looks like purple bruises on the skin
Does a fever mean my child has COVID-19? There are lots of infections that could cause a fever in your child, many of them much more likely than COVID-19. And most children who do get infected have little to no symptoms. But if your child has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or has a fever with other symptoms, your doctor can help determine whether they should be tested. The most common COVID-19 symptoms in children include fever and cough. If your child is having difficulty breathing, get medical help right away.
The bottom line is that if you are worried about fever, you are in good company, and it doesn’t necessarily mean something is really wrong. But any time you have concerns about your child’s health, we are here to help: just use the Amazon Care app to connect with a doctor, nurse practitioner, or nurse in minutes.