Kids’ Fevers: What to Know, When to Get Help

Updated October 2nd, 2019

Most children will get a fever at some point. This can feel scary for parents.

If you think your child has a fever you may wonder:

  • How do I know for sure?
  • How can I keep my child comfortable?
  • When should I seek health care?

What is a fever?

  • A fever is one way your body helps fight infections and is not dangerous.
    • Normal body temperature is about 37° Celsius (98.6° Fahrenheit).
    • A fever is when your body temperature is 38° Celsius (100° Fahrenheit) or higher.
  • Fevers are most often caused by infections. Your child may have other symptoms such as earache, sore throat, rash, or stomach ache.
  • It is common for children to have a low grade fever up to two days after an immunization.

How do I know if my child has a fever?

A child with a fever may:

  • Have red cheeks or pale skin
  • Feel very hot and sweaty or cold and shivery or both
  • Be more fussy or tired than usual
  • Not want to eat (loss of appetite)
  • Be more thirsty than usual
  • Feel hot to touch on the face or body but may have cold hands and feet

How do I take my child’s temperature?

  • The safest way to take a young child’s temperature is to hold a digital thermometer under the armpit.
  • Once your child is over 2 years of age, you can use an ear thermometer.
Safety Tip:
Do not use a mercury thermometer.  If it breaks it can expose your child to mercury, which is poisonous.

How do I care for my child with a fever?

Keep your child comfortable by:

  • Keeping your child hydrated by offering plenty of fluids or breastfeeding
  • Removing extra blankets and clothing
  • Dressing your child in light clothing: diapers or underwear and a light shirt to allow the extra heat to escape from your child’s body
Hot Parent Tip:

If cooling your child is making them shiver, this can increase the fever. Things to avoid doing:

  • Sponging your child with cold water
  • Giving your child a cold bath or ice bath
  • Using ice packs

Does my child need medicine to lower the fever?

  • Your child does not need medicine to bring down the fever. The fever helps your child’s body fight the infection. Medicine won’t cure a fever. A fever is usually a symptom of an infection which may or may not need medicine.
  • A child with a fever may be cranky, sleepy, and not want to eat or drink. Fever medication can make your child feel more comfortable, alert and more likely to drink.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol®, Tempra®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) are the medicines that can be used to reduce your child’s aches and pains from the fever and illness.
    • How much you give is based on your child’s age and weight.
    • Follow the medicine’s directions for how much and how often you can give the medicine to your child.
Safety Tips:

To avoid giving your child too much medication:

  • Use only the measuring syringe or cup that comes with the medicine. Kitchen spoons are not all the same and can cause overdosing.
  • Make a note of the time and amount you gave. Tip- your calendar or phone works great for this.
  • Write clear instructions for other caregivers about your child’s medicine. (What medicine, how much and when).

To keep your kids safe:

Choose the right medication for your child:

  • Do not give Acetylsalicylic Acid (ASA, Aspirin®) to children because it can cause a rare and dangerous disease called Reye’s Syndrome.
  • Do not give ibuprofen if your child is dehydrated, vomiting or has diarrhea because it can harm the kidneys.
  • Do not give over the counter cough and cold medicines to children less than 6 years old.
  • Check with your pharmacist if your child is taking two or more medications to make sure it is safe.

Call your local pharmacist or Health Links-Info Santé (Winnipeg 204-788-8200, toll-free 1-888-315-9257) for information.

When should I seek health care? Where should I go?

Call 911 if:

  • Your child is having a seizure
  • You cannot wake up your child
  • Your child is having severe difficulty breathing or is turning blue
  • Is less than 3 months old
  • Has had a seizure today (child does not respond to you and may be stiff or have jerking movements)
  • Has difficulty breathing or is wheezing
  • Is immunocompromised (neutropenia, transplant, steroids, has no spleen)
  • Doesn’t seem himself
    • Is very cranky, fussy or irritable.
    • Is very sleepy or does not respond to you
  • Has a headache or sore neck that does not go away with pain medicine
  • Skin is cool and looks pale, grey or mottled
  • Develops a rash that looks like bruises or small red or purple dots that do not go away when you apply pressure with your fingers

Which emergency department should I go to in Winnipeg?

Still unsure of where to go? Call Health Links – Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or toll-free 1-888-315-9257.

  • Is older than 3 months old and:
    • looks unwell
    • has no energy
    • symptoms do not improve with fever medicine
  • May be dehydrated:
    • throwing up a lot
    • is not drinking fluids
    • has a dry mouth,
    • is not peeing
  • Has a new rash or sore throat
  • Has an earache that does not go away with pain medication
  • Has symptoms of a kidney or urinary infection (pees more often than usual and it hurts to pee)
Still unsure of where to go? Call Health Links – Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or toll-free 1-888-315-9257.
  • Your child has a chronic medical condition
  • Your child’s immunizations are not up to date
  • Your child recently had surgery
  • You have recently returned from travelling abroad.
  • The fever has lasted for more than 3 days (72 hours)
  • The fever went away for 24 hours and then returned
  • Is being treated for a bacterial infection and the fever is not going away after two to three days of being on antibiotics

If you do not have a Health Care Provider, Family Doctor Finder can help.

Still unsure of where to go? Call Health Links – Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or toll-free 1-888-315-9257.

What to do if a seizure occurs

In some cases seizures can happen with a fever. This is known as a “Febrile Seizure”. Not all seizures cause stiffness or jerking movements of the arms and legs. Some seizures look like “passing out.” If your child develops a seizure:

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Place your child on a flat surface on his side.
  3. Do not move him unless he is near something dangerous.
  4. Do not restrain him (do not hold him down).
  5. Wipe away any vomit or saliva outside his mouth, but do not put anything between his teeth.
  6. After the seizure stops, keep your child on his side.
  7. Call 911 for further instructions.
  8. On the same day, take your child to his doctor for a check-up.

Do I need to keep my child home?

If your child is prescribed antibiotics, ask the doctor when the child can return to school or daycare.

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