What to do if your child has a fever
And when to seek medical advice or go to A&E.
Dr Shruti Jawahar Ganatra
It’s a magical experience seeing your baby grow and develop, watching as they learn to form words and begin to crawl and walk. It’s less magical when their temperature is running high and you’re online frantically searching for solutions.
A fever in a child at any age can be scary for a caregiver. High temperatures are very common in young children and will usually pass within 3 to 4 days – most can be safely managed at home.
However, there are times when they signal the need for urgent medical attention. It’s important to know the facts and what to do in different situations.
Caring for your child at home.
If your child has a high temperature, it is possible to care for them yourself by keeping them at home if appropriate, giving them plenty of fluids, food if they want it, and checking on them regularly in the night.
Depending on their age you can give them paracetamol if they’re distressed or unwell but you should be cautious. Don’t give paracetamol to your child if they are under 2 months and check the NHS website for other age and health condition restrictions.
It may be tempting to undress your child or sponge them down to try and cool their fever but you should avoid this – a high temperature is simply a natural and healthy response to an infection. Covering them up in layers upon layers of clothes or bedclothes, even if they’re shivering, also isn’t effective.
When to seek medical advice.
However, there are times when it’s important to seek outside medical help. You should call 111 or your GP surgery if:
- Your child is under 3 months old and has a temperature higher than 38°C.
- They are between 3 to 6 months old and have a temperature of 39°C or higher (or you think they have a high temperature).
- They have had a high temperature for 5 days or more.
- Your child has a high temperature that does not come down with paracetamol.
- You should also get in contact if they appear dehydrated (for example, if their nappies aren’t very wet, they appear to have sunken eyes or you can’t see any tears when they’re crying), they don’t want to eat, or aren’t their usual self.
When to go to A&E.
It’s time to call 999 or go to A&E if your child displays any of the following signs: they have a fit, have a stiff neck, are bothered by the light, find it hard to breathe (and suck their stomach in under their ribs), have unusually cold hands and feet, have blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue, are drowsy and hard to wake, are extremely agitated (they don’t stop crying) or are confused, have a weak, high-pitched cry unlike their normal cry, aren’t responding as they usually do, or aren’t interested in feeding or normal activities.
You should especially look out for a rash that doesn’t fade after applying pressure. Check this by doing a ‘glass test’ – press a clear glass firmly against your child’s skin and see if the spots or rash fade after you stop. If they don’t, it’s time to seek urgent medical attention.