Treating fevers: It’s more than just the number on a thermometer

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MORTON, Ill. — Doctors say there’s more to fevers than just the number on a thermometer.

They say it depends on how the child appears when they have a fever and how quickly the fever spikes.

“The height of the fever doesn’t necessarily tell us is this bacterial vs viral.  A viral respiratory infection can have a 105 fever, a simple bacterial pneumonia or strep throat may have a low-grade fever.  It’s really hard to focus too much on just the number on the thermometer, we have to take a lot more into consideration,” said Dr. Rebecca Sierra.

Dr. Rebecca Sierra is a pediatrician with OSF Healthcare, she says there are multiple things to look out for with your kids if they have a fever.

Are they lethargic? Can they continue to drink water and stay hydrated?

She adds if you have a baby, there are stricter guidelines for treatment.

“Babies under two months definitely need to be seen if they have a fever. Anything 100.4 or higher, taken rectally, needs to be seen by a physician,” Dr. Sierra said.

If they are over two months, Dr. Sierra says with guidance from a physician, they can stay home and receive treatment.

She also says it’s extremely important for anyone who has a fever to stay hydrated.

You can also use Tylenol or Motrin, as well as take a lukewarm bath to bring the fever down.

Dr. Sierra says another thing to be aware of is a febrile seizure and the symptoms that come along with it.

“Some kids are more pre-disposed to getting febrile seizures.  The biggest risk factor for a febrile seizure is how quickly the fever spikes.  Going from a normal temperature to a higher temperature, but not every kid is going to get a febrile seizure with a fever that rises that quickly.  It really just depends on whether that particular kid has a history of febrile seizures,” said Dr. Sierra.

“Normally what we’ll see with a febrile seizure is generalized shaking, not being alert, not being able to interact and answer questions for a few minutes.  Then they’ll have a groggy, postictal period where they’re a little more out of it.  They may not know where they are or be able to answer questions for a while,” Dr. Sierra added.

A febrile seizure is a convulsion in a child caused by a spike in body temperature, often from an infection. They occur in young children with normal development without a history of neurologic symptoms. It can be frightening when your child has a febrile seizure, and the few minutes it lasts can seem like an eternity. Fortunately, they’re usually harmless and typically don’t indicate a serious health problem.

Mayo Clinic

You can help by keeping your child safe during a febrile seizure and by offering comfort afterward. Call your doctor to have your child evaluated as soon as possible after a febrile seizure, says the Mayo Clinic’s website.

“If it’s the first time they’ve ever had a febrile seizure, you definitely either want to call the pediatrician’s office or take them to the emergency room.  Normally by the time a parent gets around to calling for help, the seizure activity has stopped and they can, over the phone, direct you about where to go at that point.  If they’re continuing to seize for more than a couple of minutes, you definitely want to call 911,” said Dr. Sierra.

Dr. Sierra says the fever is really the body’s way of fighting off infection.  Everyone’s immune system responds differently to infections.  So a 105 fever for one patient and a 103 fever for another patient may be the same thing.

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