I got a call from a friend today - her little one has a temperature and she was getting worried as it wasn't getting better. It occurred to me that so many people fret about fevers, when most of the time they don't need to.
So here are some 'fever facts' to help allay some of those anxieties...
- Fever is our bodies' natural way of responding to something foreign - in most cases it is an infection.
- A lot of people ask what a 'normal' temperature should be and this is difficult to answer. As a rough guide, 36.5-37.5 degrees is about right.
- Fever is NOT harmful. So many people worry that a temperature is going to cause damage (one parent was worried that her child was going to get brain damage!). In reality, temperatures up to 39/40 degrees will just make us feel uncomfortable. It's only when it hits 42/43 degrees that it may be harmful - but fortunately this is EXTREMELY rare.
- Fever may actually be helpful. There is some research to suggest that having a fever helps the body get rid of the offending infection. One theory is that the body raises its temperature in order to slow down the infection while the immune system deals with it.
- Fever does NOT cause fits. A small number of children suffer from febrile convulsions where they have a fit when they have a high temperature (it tends to run in families). It's not the actual height of the temperature that causes this per se, but is probably related to the underlying infection or speed at which the temperature goes up. Most febrile convulsions are harmless and children will grow out of them, and they are not the same as epilepsy.
- You do NOT have to treat a fever, but it is important to treat the underlying cause if appropriate. Most fevers are caused by viral infections and antibiotics do not work - the body will get rid of these naturally. Sometimes antibiotics are required for a bacterial infection.
- Treat a temperature if it is high and making the child distressed/uncomfortable. Kids will feel groggy when their temperature goes up and often perk up when it comes down.
- Use Calpol (paracetamol/acetominophen) as your first line of treatment and you can also use Nurofen (ibuprofen) if required, although the current NICE (UK) guidance is not to use the two together. However, in reality the two can be used together if necessary as they contain different things. Always be careful when taking different medicines together though - make sure you read the label!
- Just because a temperature doesn't stay down after treatment does not mean it is serious - it may just be a sign that the body is still fighting. However, if the fever doesn't respond at all or your child has a fever for 5 days or more you should definitely get checked.
- Any baby (under 6 months) with a fever should be checked by a doctor to make sure it is nothing serious - it is often difficult to tell in this age group.
- These are just general facts - the vast majority of children with fever are absolutely fine. Obviously if you are worried or your child is really unwell you should always get them checked by a doctor!