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Patient education: Fever



Patient education: Fever

A fever is a rise in body temperature that goes above a certain level.

In general, a fever means a temperature above 100.4ºF (38ºC). You might get slightly different numbers depending on how you take your / your child’s temperature – oral (mouth), armpit, ear, forehead, or rectal.

What is the best way to take my child’s temperature?

The most accurate way is to take a rectal temperature.

Oral temperatures are also reliable when done in children who are least 4 years old. Here is the right way to take a temperature by mouth:

Wait at least 30 minutes after your child has drunk or eaten anything hot or cold.

Wash the thermometer with cool water and soap. Then rinse it.

Place the tip of the thermometer under your child’s tongue toward the back. Ask your child to hold the thermometer with his or her lips, not teeth.

Have your child keep his or her lips sealed around the thermometer. A glass thermometer takes about 3 minutes to work. Most digital thermometers take less than 1 minute.

Armpit, ear, and forehead temperatures are not as accurate as rectal or oral temperatures.

What causes fever?

The most common cause of fever in children is infection. For example, children can get a fever if they have:

A cold or the flu

An airway infection, such as croup or bronchiolitis

A stomach bug

In some cases, children get a fever after getting a vaccine.

What To do at home:

You can:


Increase fluid intake. Call the doctor or nurse if your child won’t or can’t drink fluids for more than a few hours.

Rest (Your child can go back to school or regular activities after he or she has had a normal temperature for 24 hours.)

Some parents give their children sponge baths to cool them down, but that is not usually necessary. Sometimes people think they can cool a child down by putting rubbing alcohol on their skin or adding it to a bath. But this is dangerous. Do not use any kind of alcohol to try to treat a fever.

How are fevers treated?


That depends on what is causing the fever.

Antibiotics to fight the infection causing the fever. But antibiotics work only on infections caused by bacteria, not on infections caused by viruses. For example, antibiotics will not work on a cold.

Medicines, such as acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin) can help bring down a fever. But these medicines are not always necessary. For instance, a child older than 3 months who has a temperature of less than 102ºF (38.9ºC), and who is otherwise healthy and acting normally, does not need treatment.

Never give aspirin to a child younger than 18 years old. Aspirin can cause a dangerous condition called Reye syndrome.

Go to the ER if:

Oral, rectal, ear, or forehead temperature of 104ºF (40ºC) or higher

Armpit temperature of 103ºF (39.4ºC) or higher

A seizure caused by a fever

Fevers that keep coming back (even if they last only a few hours)

A fever as well as an ongoing medical problem, such as heart disease, cancer, lupus, or sickle cell anemia

A fever as well as a new skin rash


You should contact your private physician for follow-up care. If you are unable to get a timely appointment, or if you are worsening, call us. If you need assistance in finding a primary provider or pediatrician please call 410-601-WELL (9355)

Open 7 days a week until 9 p.m.

No Appointment Necessary. To make another Telemedicice visit: click here for Maryland OR click here for Delaware.

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