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
- An abnormal high body temperature
- Fever is the only symptom. Your child has a true fever if:
- 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
- Caution: Ear temperatures are not accurate before 6 months of age
- Caution: Forehead temperatures must be digital. Forehead strips are not accurate.
Causes of Fever
- Overview. Almost all fevers are caused by a new infection. Viruses cause 10 times more infections than bacteria. The number of germs that cause an infection are in the hundreds. Only a few common ones will be listed.
- Viral Infections. Colds, flu and other viral infections are the most common cause. Fever may be the only symptom for the first 24 hours. The start of viral symptoms (runny nose, cough, loose stools) is often delayed. Roseola is the most extreme example. Fever may be the only symptom for 2 or 3 days. Then a rash appears.
- Bacterial Infections. A bladder infection is the most common cause of silent fever in girls. Strep throat is also a common cause of unexplained fever.
- Sinus Infection. This is a problem caused by a cold. The main symptom is the return of fever after it has been gone for a few days. The sinus congestion also changes to sinus pain. Color of nasal discharge is not very helpful for making this diagnosis.
- Vaccine Fever. Fever with most vaccines begins within 12 hours. It lasts 2 to 3 days. This is normal and harmless. It means the vaccine is working.
- Newborn Fever (Serious). Fever that occurs during the first 3 months of life can be serious. All of these babies need to be seen as soon as possible. The fever may be due to sepsis (a bloodstream infection). Bacterial infections in this age group can get worse quickly. They need rapid treatment.
- Meningitis (Very Serious). A bacterial infection of the membrane that covers the spinal cord and brain. The main symptoms are a stiff neck, headache and confusion. Younger children are lethargic or so irritable that they can't be consoled. If not treated early, can suffer brain damage.
- Overheated. The fever is usually low grade. Can occur during heat waves or from being overdressed. The temp becomes normal in a few hours after moving to a cooler place. Can also occur during hard exercise. Fever goes away quickly with rest and drinking extra fluids.
- Not Due to Teething. Research shows that "getting teeth" does not cause fevers.
Fever and Crying
- Fever on its own shouldn't cause much crying.
- Frequent crying in a child with fever is caused by pain until proven otherwise.
- Hidden causes can be ear infections, kidney infections, sore throats and meningitis.
Roseola: Classic Cause of Unexplained Fever in Young Children
- Most children get Roseola between 6 months and 3 years of age.
- Cause: human herpes virus 6
- Rash: pink, small, flat spots on the chest and stomach. Rash is the same on both sides of the body.
- Then spreads to the face.
- Classic feature: 2 or 3 days of high fever without a rash or other symptoms.
- The rash starts 12 to 24 hours after the fever goes away.
- The rash lasts 1 to 3 days.
- By the time the rash appears, the child feels fine.
Normal Temperature Range
- Rectal. A reading of 98.6° F (37° C) is just the average rectal temp. A normal low can be 96.8° F (36° C) in the morning. It can change to a high of 100.3° F (37.9° C) late in the day. This is a normal range.
- By mouth. A reading of 97.6° F (36.5° C) is just the average mouth temp. A normal low can be 95.8° F (35.5° C) in the morning. It can change to a high of 99.9° F (37.7° C) late in the day. This is a normal range.
Call 911 Now
- Not moving or too weak to stand
- Can't wake up
- Trouble breathing with bluish lips or face
- Purple or blood-colored spots or dots on skin
- You think your child has a life-threatening emergency
Go to ER Now
- Stiff neck (can't touch chin to the chest)
- Age less than 1 year and soft spot bulging or swollen
- Hard to wake up
- Had a seizure with the fever
Call Doctor or Seek Care Now
- Trouble breathing
- Great trouble swallowing fluids or spit
- Not alert when awake ("out of it")
- Acts or talks confused
- Age less than 12 weeks old with any fever. Caution: do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen.
- Fever over 104° F (40° C)
- Shaking chills (shivering) lasting more than 30 minutes
- Nonstop crying or cries when touched or moved
- Won't move an arm or leg normally
- Dehydration suspected. No urine in more than 8 hours, dark urine, very dry mouth and no tears.
- Pain or burning when passing urine
- Weak immune system. Examples are: sickle cell disease, HIV, cancer, organ transplant, taking oral steroids.
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent
Call Doctor Within 24 Hours
- Age 3-6 months old with fever
- Age 6-24 months old with fever that lasts more than 24 hours. There are no other symptoms (such as cough or diarrhea).
- Fever lasts more than 3 days
- Fever returns after being gone more than 24 hours
- Recent travel outside the country to high risk area
- You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent
Call Doctor During Office Hours
- You have other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home
- Fever with no other symptoms and your child acts mildly ill
Care Advice for Fever
- What You Should Know About Fever:
- Having a fever means your child has a new infection.
- It's most likely caused by a virus.
- You may not know the cause of the fever until other symptoms develop. This may take 24 hours.
- Most fevers are good for sick children. They help the body fight infection.
- Use the ranges below to help put your child's level of fever into perspective:
- 100° - 102° F (37.8° - 39° C) Low grade fever: helpful, good range. Don't treat.
- 102° - 104° F (39 - 40° C) Average fever: helpful. Treat if causes discomfort.
- Over 104° F (40° C) High fever: causes discomfort, but harmless. Always treat.
- Over 106° F (41.1° C) Very high fever: important to bring it down. Rare to go this high.
- Over 108° F (42.3° C) Dangerous fever: fever itself can be harmful.
- Treatment for All Fevers - Extra Fluids
- Fluids alone can lower the fever. Reason: being well-hydrated helps the body give off heat through the skin.
- Offer your child extra water or other fluids by mouth. Cold fluids are better. Until 6 months old, only give extra formula or breastmilk.
- For all children, dress in 1 layer of light weight clothing, unless shivering. Reason: also helps heat loss from the skin.
- Caution: if a baby under 1 year has a fever, never overdress or bundle up. Reason: babies can get over-heated more easily than older children.
- For fevers 100°-102° F (37.8° - 39°C), fever meds are rarely needed. Fevers of this level don't cause discomfort. They do help the body fight the infection.
- Exception: if you feel your child also has pain, treat it.
- Fever Medicine:
- Fevers only need to be treated with medicine if they cause discomfort. Most often, that means fevers above 102° F (39° C). Also use for shivering (shaking chills). Shivering means the fever is going up.
- For fevers above 102° F (39° C), give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
- Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
- Goal of treatment: Bring the temperature down to a comfortable level. Most often, the fever meds lower the fever by 2° to 3° F (1 - 1.5° C). They do not bring it down to normal. It takes 1 or 2 hours to see the effect.
- Do not use aspirin. Reason: Risk of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious brain disease.
- Do not use both acetaminophen and ibuprofen together. Reason: Not needed and a risk of giving too much.
- Sponging With Lukewarm Water:
- Note: Sponging is an option for high fevers, but not required. It is rarely needed.
- When to Use: Fever above 104° F (40° C) AND doesn't come down with fever meds. Always give the fever medicine at least an hour to work before sponging.
- How to Sponge: Use lukewarm water (85 - 90° F) (29.4 - 32.2° C). Sponge for 20-30 minutes.
- If your child shivers or becomes cold, stop sponging. Other option: You can also make the water warmer.
- Caution: Do not use rubbing alcohol. Reason: Can cause a coma.
- Return to School:
- Your child can return to school after the fever is gone. Your child should feel well enough to join in normal activities.
- What to Expect:
- Most fevers with viral illnesses range between 101° and 104° F (38.4° and 40° C).
- They may last for 2 or 3 days.
- They are not harmful.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- Any serious symptoms occur such as trouble breathing
- Fever goes above 104° F (40° C)
- Any fever occurs if less than 12 weeks old
- Fever without other symptoms lasts more than 24 hours (if age less than 2 years)
- Fever lasts more than 3 days (72 hours)
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Your child becomes worse
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.
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