Children's Hospital Colorado

Fever - Myths Versus Facts

Urgent or Emergency Care?

If you believe your child needs immediate attention and you have concerns for a life-threatening emergency, call 911. Not sure what counts as urgent and what's an emergency when your child is sick or injured? When it can't wait, know where to take your kids.

Help Me Decide

Barton D. Schmitt, M.D., FAAP

Many parents have false beliefs (myths) about fever. They think fever will hurt their child. They worry and lose sleep when their child has a fever. This is called fever phobia. In fact, fevers are harmless and often helpful. Let these facts help you better understand fever.

MYTH. My child feels warm, so she has a fever.

FACT. Children can feel warm for a many reasons. Examples are playing hard, crying, getting out of a warm bed or hot weather. They are "giving off heat." Their skin temperature should return to normal in about 20 minutes. About 80% of children who act sick and feel warm do have a fever. If you want to be sure, take the temperature. These are the cutoffs for fever using different types of thermometers:

  • Rectal (bottom), ear or forehead temperature: 100.4° F (38.0° C) or higher
  • Oral (mouth) temperature: 100° F (37.8° C) or higher
  • Under the arm (Armpit) temperature: 99° F (37.2° C) or higher

MYTH. All fevers are bad for children.

FACT. Fevers turn on the body's immune system. They help the body fight infection. Normal fevers between 100° and 104° F (37.8° - 40° C) are good for sick children.

MYTH. Fevers above 104° F (40° C) are dangerous. They can cause brain damage.

FACT. Fevers with infections don't cause brain damage. Only temperatures above 108° F (42° C) can cause brain damage. It's very rare for the body temperature to climb this high. It only happens if the air temperature is very high. An example is a child left in a closed car during hot weather.

MYTH. Anyone can have a seizure triggered by fever.

FACT. Only 4% of children can have a seizure with fever.

MYTH. Seizures with fever are harmful.

FACT. These seizures are scary to watch, but they stop within 5 minutes. They don't cause any permanent harm. They don't increase the risk for speech delays, learning problems, or seizures without fever.

MYTH. All fevers need to be treated with fever medicine.

FACT. Fevers only need to be treated if they cause discomfort (makes your child feel bad). Most fevers don't cause discomfort until they go above 102° or 103° F (39° or 39.5° C).

MYTH. Without treatment, fevers will keep going higher.

FACT. Wrong, because the brain knows when the body is too hot. Most fevers from infection don't go above 103° or 104° F (39.5°- 40° C). They rarely go to 105° or 106° F (40.6° or 41.1° C). While these are "high" fevers, they also are harmless ones.

MYTH. With treatment, fevers should come down to normal.

FACT. With treatment, most fevers come down 2° or 3° F (1° or 1.5° C).

MYTH. If you can't "break the fever", the cause is serious.

FACT. Fevers that don't come down to normal can be caused by viruses or bacteria. The response to fever medicines tells us nothing about the cause of the infection.

MYTH. Once the fever comes down with medicines, it should stay down.

FACT. It's normal for fevers with most viral infections to last for 2 or 3 days. When the fever medicine wears off, the fever will come back. It may need to be treated again. The fever will go away and not return once the body overpowers the virus. Most often, this is day 3 or 4.

MYTH. If the fever is high, the cause is serious.

FACT. If the fever is high, the cause may or may not be serious. If your child looks very sick, the cause is more likely to be serious.

MYTH. The exact number of the temperature is very important.

FACT. How your child looks and acts is what's important. The exact temperature number is not.

MYTH. Oral temperatures between 98.7° and 100° F (37.1° to 37.8° C) are low-grade fevers.

FACT. These temperatures are normal. The body's normal temperature changes throughout the day. It peaks in the late afternoon and evening. A true low-grade fever is 100° F to 102° F (37.8° - 39° C) .

SUMMARY. Keep in mind that fever is fighting off your child's infection. Fever is one of the good guys.

Disclaimer

The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.

  • Not a Substitute - The information and materials in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker should not be used as a substitute for the care and knowledge that your physician can provide to you.
  • Supplement - The information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker are meant to supplement the information that you obtain from your physician. If there is a disagreement between the information presented herein and what your physician has told you -- it is more likely that your physician is correct. He or she has the benefit of knowing your child's medical problems.
  • Limitations - You should recognize that the information and materials presented here in Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker have the following limitations, in comparison to being examined by your own physician:
    • You can have a conversation with your child's doctor.
    • Your child's doctor can perform a physical examination and any necessary tests.
    • Your child could have an underlying medical problem that requires a physician to detect.
    • If your child is taking medications, they could influence how he experiences various symptoms.

If you think that your child is having a medical emergency, call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!

And when in doubt, call your child's doctor NOW or go to the closest emergency department.

The search for nearby emergency and urgent care facilities is based upon Google search parameters. You will get results based on how facilities manage their website information.

By using this website, you accept the information provided herein "AS IS." Neither publishers nor the providers of the information contained herein will have any liability to you arising out of your use of the information contained herein or make any expressed or implied warranty regarding the accuracy, content, completeness, reliability, or efficacy of the information contained within this website.


PRODWEBSERVER2