Measuring a fever

By: Tania Adams

My kids aren’t babies anymore. However, I still remember those days vividly –especially the things you experience with your first child. The worry about whether or not you are doing the right thing, and when medical help is needed.

A fever was always a dilemma – hot or not? What really is considered a fever and what should you do about it? Murphy’s Law of Parenting says that these things always seem to strike in the middle of the night – so be prepared!

Firstly, measure it. Digital thermometers are cheap, accurate and easy to use.  Under the arm in children under five years of age (measures up to 1°C lower than in the mouth) and in the mouth once your child is at a more co-operative age.

When is a fever ok? Fever is the body’s natural response to a viral or bacterial infection. Over 37.5°C measured in the mouth or ear is considered a fever. But how high a fever is doesn’t tell you much about how sick your child is or isn’t. Behaviour is always a better gauge of how sick a child is, than body temperature. However if your baby is less than three months old and has a temperature above 38°C, call your doctor even if your child otherwise seems fine, just to be sure.

You’ll need to seek medical attention when your child:

  • behaves differently (looks exhausted, ill, sleepy, floppy)
  • cries constantly and cannot be comforted or doesn’t wake easily
  • has a temperature of over 38°C for more than three days
  • has a temperature of over 40°C (39°C is under two years old)
  • is vomiting, has diarrhea or loss of appetite
  • is unable to swallow
  • has been overseas recently or in contact with an infectious disease
  • has other pre-existing conditions of concern
  • does not seem to be improving

Fever that is accompanied with the symptoms below is a medical emergency (dial 111): Stiff neck, hallucinations, cramps or leg pains, affected by bright light, trouble breathing, red rash or blue or purple dots or patches.

How should I treat my child’s fever?

  • Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids. A child with a high temperature can get dehydrated.
  • Let them rest
  • Keep them cool. - Dress in lightweight clothing and a cover with a light sheet. 
  • Get advice about medicines – a pharmacist can advise when to give medicine, what medicine to give, how much and how often based on your child’s weight and age.
  • Apply lots of TLC (tender loving care)!

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