What causes a child to run a fever or high temperature?
Parents get too worried about their kids’ fevers. When a fever strikes a child most parents overmedicate, use cold baths unnecessarily and check temperatures too frequently. Fever is the body's defence mechanism against either viruses or bacteria. It is an important way by which the body fights infection. The body tries to create so much heat that the virus or the bacteria cannot survive. Having a temperature helps the child fight illness.
The part of the human brain which controls body temperature is not fully developed in children. That means that children's temperature may rise and fall very quickly. The temperature of their surroundings very easily affects a child's body temperature. If it is very hot, take off some of your child's clothes so heat can escape from their body. If it is very cold, parents can help their child stay warm by dressing him or her in warm clothes.
What is the normal temperature for a child?
If you take the temperature in your child's mouth or ear, the normal temperature is between 36° and 36.8° C (97.7° to 99.1°F).
Does it make a difference where the temperature is taken?
The temperature can be taken by putting the thermometer in the child's mouth, under her arm, in her ear, in her bottom, or using strips that are placed on the forehead.
The most reliable results are achieved by taking the temperature in the child's bottom - known as the rectal method. Temperatures taken here are most accurate and are about 0.5 degrees C higher in the mouth. Temperature taken in the armpit is not very reliable and will be about 0.5 degrees C (2 degrees F) lower than the mouth temperature.
How to measure the child’s temperature using the rectal method?
The most precise, method is rectal measurement. It is the best method for children up to the age of three. You can use a mercury thermometer. When using a mercury thermometer, shake it before use.
Place the child over your knee with its stomach on your thighs. This will give you a firm grip and you will be able to see what you are doing. Put a little petroleum jelly on the tip of the thermometer and insert it carefully 1-1.5 cm (about half an inch) into your child's rectum. If it is a mercury thermometer, hold it steady for two minutes.
How to measure the child’s temperature in the mouth?
The thermometer is placed in the mouth, under the tongue and will take two to three minutes to measure the temperature. If the child has just eaten anything hot or cold, it will be necessary to wait 10 minutes before an accurate temperature can be taken. This method is not suitable for a young child. She may bite the thermometer and break it, which can be very dangerous. Temperatures taken in the mouth will be 0.5 degrees C lower than a rectal temperature reading.
How to measure the child’s temperature under the armpit?
This method is not good for small children, since they will not stay still for long enough. You risk both an inaccurate measurement and hurting the child. With older children, you place the thermometer under their armpit for 5 - 10 minutes.
Temperatures taken under the armpit will be about 0.5 degree C lower than temperatures taken in the mouth.
What to do when the child has a temperature?
A child with a high temperature needs more liquids than otherwise, because the fever will make them sweat a lot. Make sure the child drinks plenty of liquids - if necessary, a teaspoonful every few minutes. Provided she drinks plenty of liquids, it won't matter too much if she eats very little for a couple of days.
A child with a high temperature also needs rest and sleep. She does not have to be in bed all day if she feels like playing, but she should have the opportunity to lie down.
If the child shivers while her temperature is rising, it is necessary to cover her with a a blanket, but when her temperature has stabilised and the child starts sweating,
she needs to cool down. She only need to wear underwear or a nappy and this will help the heat escape from the body. Make sure her room is ventilated and cool. If you want to use medication to get the temperature down, ask your doctor who will be able to tell you what to use and how much. The dosage will depend on both the age and weight of your child. Paracetamol suspension is the usual choice.
A sick child is often tired and bad-tempered. She sleeps a lot and when she is awake, she will want her parents around all the time. It is okay to spoil a child a little while she is sick. Read to her, play with her and spend time with her. This is not the time to teach a child good manners. A child usually recovers quickly and will go back to their old self again.
When does it become necessary to call the doctor?
Observe your child carefully. If the child looks exhausted, ill and behaves differently, call the doctor immediately.
If you have a young child, less than three months old, who runs a high fever, call the doctor. If your child cries continuously without your being able to comfort her, or doesn't wake up easily, call the doctor
If your child has a temperature over 38 degrees C (101.3 degrees F) for more than three days, the child needs to be examined by a doctor.
And if your child has any of these symptoms call the doctor immediately:
- Stiff neck
- Red rash or blue/purple dots or patches
- Troubled breathing
- Persistent vomiting or diarrhoea
- Severe tonsillitis
- If it is painful for the child to urinate, or she urinates more than usual
- Other illnesses
- If your child has just had an operation
- If your child does not seem to be getting better