What is a fever in children?

A fever in children is usually considered to be any temperature over 38°C and is often the first sign your child is fighting off an infection. The rise in temperature helps your child’s immune system to fight the infection, by making it difficult for viruses and bacteria to survive.

Children’s temperatures can also rise slightly during teething, after vaccination or if their body overheats from the outside, for example from being overdressed or being outdoors in the heat. Keep a close eye on your baby or child if their temperature rises, so that you know whether it might be due to illness, or something like too many layers. Most viral infections in children cause a fever for up to 48 hours, but some may last a little longer. Usually though, you can look after them at home as their temperature should return to normal in four to five days. If your baby is under three months old and has a temperature of 38°C or higher, or is between three and six months old with a temperature of 39°C or higher, you need to take them to the doctor right away.

What are the typical signs of fever in children?

The most reliable way of knowing if your child has a fever is by taking their temperature with a digital thermometer under their armpit. Other signs that they might have a high temperature are:

  • Looking pale and shivery or complaining of feeling cold even though they feel hot to your touch (This may happen at the start of a fever)
  • Feeling hotter than usual, when you touch their forehead, back, tummy or chest
  • Feeling sweaty or clammy to your touch
  • Looking and feeling unwell
  • Having flushed cheeks

A sick child with a fever may also:

  • Complain of a headache or tummy ache
  • Appear listless, tired and miserable
  • Have watery eyes, swollen glands, drool or feel sick

When should I be concerned about fever?

Although fever in children over six months doesn’t always indicate a serious illness, you should always see your doctor if:

  • your child is aged under three months with a temperature of 38°C or more
  • your child is three to six months old with a temperature of 39°C or more
  • has a rash as well as a high temperature
  • has a high temperature for five days or more
  • does not want to eat, or is not their usual self and you're worried
  • has a high temperature that does not come down with paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • is dehydrated. Signs of dehydration are nappies that are not very wet, sunken eyes, and no tears when they're crying

The following signs might mean that your child has a serious infection, and you should call 999 if your little one:

  • has a stiff neck
  • has a rash that does not fade when you press a glass against it
  • is bothered by light
  • has a fit (febrile seizure- they can’t stop shaking)
  • has unusually cold hands and feet
  • has blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
  • has a weak, high-pitched cry that's not like their normal cry
  • is drowsy and hard to wake
  • is extremely agitated (does not stop crying) or is confused
  • finds it hard to breathe and sucks their stomach in under their ribs
  • is not responding like they normally do, or is not interested in feeding or normal activities

How to reduce your child’s fever

Naturally, you’ll want to make your child comfortable when they have a fever and knowing what to do will make it easier for both you and your child. Here are some simple tips:

  • Firstly, avoiding dehydration is important. Give your child plenty of fluids, throughout the day, and check on them regularly during the night.
  • Give them food if they want it.
  • Try to keep them covered with light clothing and bedding, but don’t undress them or cover them in too many bedclothes. Keep their room at a comfortable temperature rather than adding more layers of clothes.
  • Keep them home from school and away from other people until their temperature comes down to normal.

If they seem distressed or unwell, try giving them paracetamol or ibuprofen. Nurofen for Children Oral suspension contains ibuprofen and is specifically for children from 3 months old and weighing over 5kg. It can reduce a fever effectively for up to 8 hours.