The Kid’s Doctor: Remember that fever is your child’s friend

The Kid’s Doctor: Remember that fever is your child’s friend

By Sue Hubbard, M.D.,

Every year, during the fall and winter “sick season,” I see 20-30 patients a day with a fever, and every parent anguishes over why this has happened.

Fever is one of the most common symptoms among children. Younger children run fevers quite frequently when they’re sick. As I’ve discussed before, this may occur eight times during the cold months of the year. This should be cause for panic.

“Fever is our friend” has been one of my mantras for years. It’s comforting for parents to understand that fever is a symptom that the body is fighting an infection. The problem is usually a viral infection that only lasts a few days, then lo and behold, the fever is gone. The biggest myth is that fever, in and of itself, causes brain damage. Remember, though, that fever is only a symptom.

The height of a fever does not correlate with severity of illness. A higher fever does not necessarily mean you’re getting sicker. Your child may feel awful with a fever of 101 or 104 degrees, but typically, once given either acetaminophen or ibuprofen, the temperature comes down a little and the youngster feels better for a while. Once the anti-pyretic (fever-reducing) medications wear off, the fever will often return.

Children typically have more fever during the night; it seems like darkness brings out the fever monster (that’s the mother in me, but it was always true at my house), and those nights of fitful sleep and hot little bodies can seem very long. I do wonder, though, why kids who’ve had little sleep due to fever, coughs, etc., get up in the morning and don’t long for a nap like their parents?

The other thing you need to keep in mind is that the higher the fever, the faster your child’s heart will beat and the higher respiratory rate the child will have. It’s easy to climb into bed with your “hot” 3-year-old, feel their heart pounding away and know they have a high fever, even before the thermometer is out. A fever is the body’s natural way of expending heat.

Once the fever comes down, you’ll notice that a child breathes less rapidly and the child’s heart rate comes down. Remember to offer plenty of fluids to a child with a fever, as they need extra fluid. They can eat, too, but if they’re not interested, a Popsicle or flavored gelatin may be a good alternative.

(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. “The Kid’s Doctor” TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at The Kid’s Doctor e-book, “Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today’s Teen,” is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.)