About Fever in Children
Fever is extremely common in children and usually suggests that your child has an infection.
The normal temperature of a child is around 36.6°C (97.8F). Your child has a fever if their temperature is over 38°C (101°F). The most accurate way of measuring your child’s temperature is with a digital thermometer.
If your child looks well but has a fever then they probably have a virus and the majority do not need to be seen by a health professional, and it is the minority that need to come to hospital.
If your child with a fever is less than 6 months, or the fever has been present for 5 or more days, then you do need to seek medical attention.
What causes a high temperature?
Most fevers are caused by infections or other illnesses. The high body temperature makes it more difficult for the bacteria and viruses that cause infections to survive.
Viral infections are far more common than bacterial infections. Symptoms such as runny nose, cough, wheeze, sore throat, red eyes, and diarrhoea are more suggestive of a viral infection than a bacterial infection.
If a few people are unwell in the same household, this also suggests a viral infection (because viral infections are easily spread).
Viral infections tend to get better on their own and do not need treatment with antibiotics.
Treating a fever
If your child has a fever, it's important to keep them hydrated by giving them plenty of cool water to drink.
Babies should be given plenty of liquids, such as breast milk or formula. Even if your child isn't thirsty, try to get them to drink little and often to keep their fluid levels up.
If the environment is warm, you could help to your child to stay at a comfortable temperature by covering them with a lightweight sheet or opening a window.
However, they should still be appropriately dressed for their surroundings and sponging your child with cool water isn't recommended to reduce a fever.
Using medicines to help
- If your child is distressed, you should consider giving them paracetamol or ibuprofen to help them feel more comfortable.
- Use one and if your child has not improved 2-3 hours later you may want to try giving the other medicine.
- Carefully read the instructions on the medicine for dose and frequency.
- You could ask your local pharmacist for more advice about medicines
Remember Contact your GP or, if your GP is closed, phone 111 for urgent advice if your child:
- is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38°C (101°F) or above
- is over 3 months and has a temperature of 39°C (102°F) or above
- has persistent vomiting
- is refusing to feed
- is floppy
- is drowsy or difficult to wake.
Always trust your instincts and phone 999 if you think there's an emergency.
If your child seems to be otherwise well – for example, if they're playing and attentive – it's less likely they're seriously ill.
Other useful advice and links
NHS Inform: Fever in children
Spotting sepsis in under 5's video, NHS UK: https://youtu.be/FifBm_08RkA