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Health & Safety

How to Treat a Fever at Every Age

What to do when the temperature rises….

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Fever, especially in young kids, can be scary, but it's the body's way of letting you know your child is sick. Here's what to do at every age.

Don't panic. Keep in mind that fevers are a natural part of the body's immune response. "It is very important for parents to know that a fever itself is essentially harmless," explains Michael Grosso, M.D., chairman of the department of pediatrics and chief medical officer at Northwell Health's Huntington Hospital in New York. "Your pediatrician may ask you to take your child's temperature because this is a clue that an infection may be happening, but not because the elevated temperature is important for any other reason."

Know when to call your doctor. This depends on the age of your baby and other factors. Call your pediatrician if:

· Your child is under three months and she spikes a fever 100.4 or higher. "The reason for more concern when a fever happens in very young infants is that the immune system is so immature and the birth process itself exposes the baby to certain kinds of bacteria that can cause serious consequences," explains Dr. Grosso. Babies this age will often require hospitalization so doctors can determine what's causing the infection and to prevent any serious complications.

· Your child is 3 to 6 months old and the fever is over 101. "After 3 months of age, a fever doesn't typically require hospitalization, but as your baby is still developing a more robust immune system, have her seen if a fever develops and you worry about his eating, breathing, hydration, or behavior," says Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician and chief of digital innovation at Seattle Children's Hospital.

· If a child over 6 months has a fever higher than 104, or one that lasts more than four or five days, or if there's an unexplained fever (meaning that the fever is the only symptom), says Dr. Swanson.

· Your child appears to be in serious pain or has a rash.

· Your child has a seizure. In some kids, fevers can lead to febrile seizures, which are usually harmless but can be very frightening. Your doctor will help determine the cause of the seizure and a course of action if it should occur again.

Consider medication. It's not necessary to treat a fever, but, if your child is over three months, you can give an over-the-counter pain reliever if the fever is making her uncomfortable. "Acetaminophen can be used after 3 months of age, and both ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be used after 6 months of age,"says Dr. Swanson. "Anti-fever medicines do a great job if your child is uncomfortable or seems less likely to eat or sleep well with their fever." Talk to your pediatrician about proper dosing, which changes with your child's weight.

Don't focus on the numbers. This is easier said than done, but pay more attention to how your kid is feeling and acting than to his temperature. "I am much less concerned about a 12-month old who is playing and happy with a temperature of 103 than a child of the same age who is listless, pale, moaning or grunting, or breathing rapidly, even if that child's temperature is only 101," says Dr. Grosso.

Provide comfort. Other than medicine, you can help lower your kid's temperature by using cool towels or a lukewarm bath, says Dr. Swanson. "That combined with simple cuddling can go a very long way," she says. It's more important to keep your child comfortable than it is to lower the number on the thermometer.

Offer liquids. Your child might not have much of an appetite when he has a fever, but it's critical you encourage him to drink up. "At these times, keeping up with fluids is especially important, since loss of fluid through the skin and lungs increases during fever," says Dr. Grosso.

Trust your gut. Fevers are a normal part of being sick, but that doesn't mean you should ignore them completely. "It's important to always trust your instincts," explains Dr. Swanson. "If a fever isn't going away or makes your child look exceptionally unwell, never hesitate to call your pediatrician for help."