100.4 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT
The amount of time spent discussing fever in the pediatric office is endless. Fever is one of the most commonly encountered symptoms when something is amiss. When something is amiss with one’s child, nothing is right in the world. Your pediatrician can bring the situation into perspective and provide grounded advice in the office. There is a delicate dance we do between expressing concern and providing reassurance, knowing when to worry and when to not.
Lucky for us, and lucky for parents, fever is usually short lived and protective. Knowing the facts before you encounter your child’s first fever can help defray some of the worry a fever brings.
Fever is an elevation of the body’s thermostat in response to infection or illness. This thermostat is located in the hypothalamus which is located in the brain. Chemicals released by our bodies or germs themselves trigger the hypothalamus to turn our body temperature up to a higher than normal set point. The theory is that this higher set point creates an inhospitable environment for the invaders, bacteria and viruses. Therefore, fever can be viewed as playing a vital role in your body’s immune response.
Does this mean that treating a fever is a bad idea? Not necessarily. As parents we hate to see our kids suffer, and that is a normal parental instinct. If your child is uncomfortable due to a fever, or they are not able to eat, drink, or sleep well because of it, then that is an appropriate time to treat the fever. There is not a magic number at which a fever must be treated. Treat the child, not the number. Medicine is often a balancing act of intervening and letting things take their natural course. In a lot of ways parenting strikes a similar balance.
Parents frequently question us about what constitutes a “serious” temperature or at what temperature they should take their child to the emergency room for care. The answer to this question is tricky and age dependent. A fever in a one week old is completely different from a fever in a one year old. This has to do with the immaturity of a newborn’s immune system and their inability to localize infection, meaning that it can spread more easily throughout their body. In addition, younger infants who have not yet received any vaccinations are at higher risk for more serious infections.
A temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or above is considered a fever. In a child less than sixty days that means a visit to your doctor or to the emergency department. It’s always a good idea to call your doctor’s office for specific instructions for a fever in a young infant. Depending on what else is going on with your child, they will be able to direct you to proper care. Giving fever reducing medications is not recommended in a child under the age of four months.
Depending on your situation, by four months old your child may never have had a fever or may have had multiple febrile illnesses. Parenting a child with a fever will get easier with experience.
Stay tuned for more insight about illness and how to get through it.