When Your Child’s Fever Is Cause for Concern

Sick boy with thermometer

While normal body temperature is considered 98.6℉, body temperature can vary from person to person and fluctuate based on age, time of day, and level of activity. Generally, your child is considered to have a fever when their temperature is 100.4℉ or higher, though the consequences can vary based on the child and the underlying cause of the fever.

On its own, your child’s fever is not an illness, but is usually a sign that their immune system has kicked into high gear to fight off an illness or infection. A fever is part of your child’s immune system response and makes it more difficult for bacteria and viruses to survive in their body. 

While most fevers are nothing to worry about and resolve on their own in a day or two, a fever can sometimes indicate a condition that requires immediate attention. Pediatrician, Andrew Satran, MD, and our staff of Advanced Pediatrics of Rockland provide the care and support families need when their children are ill. 

When your child has a fever that indicates a need for treatment, our caring staff works to schedule a sick visit to evaluate their condition. When necessary, we can arrange for a same-day appointment to ensure no time is lost in securing an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. 

Since every child’s body and reaction to fever is unique, it can be difficult to determine whether a fever indicates a more serious condition. Consider these guidelines in evaluating whether your child’s fever is cause for concern.

Common causes of fever in children

Infants and children usually develop fevers in reaction to infections. When your child experiences a fever that lasts from one to 14 days, it’s considered an acute fever. 

Some of the most common causes of acute fever are associated with diseases that include:

  • Viral infection of the respiratory system, like a cold or the flu
  • Viral infection of the digestive tract (gastroenteritis)
  • Bacterial infections that affect your ears (otitis media), lungs (pneumonia), and the tissues covering the brain (meningitis)

A fever can also occur as the result of bacterial infections of the skin (cellulitis), joints (septic arthritis), brain (encephalitis and Kawasaki disease), or heatstroke. Some vaccinations and medications can cause side effects that result in a fever. 

A chronic fever lasts longer than 14 days. While a chronic fever can be a symptom of diseases like hepatitis, sinusitis, pneumonia, or bone or heart infections, it can also occur as a result of conditions that include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)
  • Connective tissue disorders like juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • Leukemia, lymphoma, and other forms of cancer

Signs that a fever may require medical treatment

While it’s easy to identify a fever exists by taking your child’s temperature, it’s difficult to determine the cause of the fever, even if your child has other symptoms. 

You know your child best, so when they’re sick, look for signs that indicate changes in their behavior and appearance. Trust your parental instinct that tells you something just isn’t right.

When the following symptoms accompany a fever, it’s typically a cause for concern and warrants a call to our office:

  • Fever in an infant younger than 3 months old
  • Fever in an older child higher than 102.2℉ 
  • Listlessness or lethargy
  • Inability to drink adequately
  • Lasting diarrhea or vomiting
  • Symptoms of dehydration (urinating less than usual, crying without tears, less alert and active than usual)
  • Fever accompanied by rash, tiny reddish-purple dots, or splotches
  • Pain when urinating
  • Fever with no other symptoms

You should also call our office if your child has a fever and is being treated for a chronic medical problem like heart disease, lupus, cancer, or sickle cell disease. A fever increases demands on your child’s body, which can cause complications when they’re already affected by a chronic medical condition.

Reasons to seek immediate medical care 

In some cases, a fever can indicate a serious problem that requires immediate medical care. Don’t delay in getting emergency care for your child if their fever is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Inconsolable crying
  • Inability to awaken
  • Headache, confusion, and/or neck stiffness in an older child
  • Inability to swallow or drooling saliva

No matter what your child is experiencing, you should never hesitate to call our office if you’re concerned about your child’s fever. Like adults, every child experiences illness differently. You know your child best and can judge when something seems seriously wrong.

Dr. Satran can share more information about taking care of your child when they’re sick with a fever. Request an appointment online or call our office in Pomona, New York. 

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