Health Library

What is a Fever?

Normally, the body temperature is around 98.6°F (37°C). The body temperature varies throughout the day and with the person's level of activity. A slight rise in temperature (below 100.4°F [38°C]) may occur after exercise / physical exertion or when infants and children are overdressed.

A temperature above 100.4°F (38°C) is considered a fever. It is a symptom, rather than a disease. Keep in mind the following facts about fever.

  • Harmful effects from fever are rare.
  • Fever is one of the body's normal methods for fighting against infections.
  • A fever actually helps to fight an infection.
  • The degree of the temperature may not indicate how sick the child is.
  • In some children fever can be associated with a seizure or dehydration but fever will not lead to brain damage or death.

A child with a fever may have warm or hot skin, but it is better to use a thermometer to find out the exact temperature. There are many ways to measure a temperature.

Call Your Child's Doctor If:

  • Your child has a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or greater and is younger than 3 months
  • Your child has a fever that lasts for more than 48 hours and is older than 3 months
  • Your child is crying or whimpering and cannot be comforted
  • Your child has a change from the usual type of cry (more shrill than usual)
  • There is less urine than usual or if your child wets fewer diapers than usual (Infants usually have 6-8 diapers per day.)
  • There are purple spots on the skin or bruising
  • Your child cannot move his / her neck or has a stiff neck
  • Your child has trouble breathing (pulling in at ribs, breathing fast or hard, or strange noises from the airway)
  • Your child is hard to arouse or wake up
  • Your child is not drinking or eating normally
  • Your child has symptoms such as sore throat, ear pain, stomach pain or pain when urinating

Treatment for Fever

For premature infants or infants less than 3 months old, call your child's doctor for instructions. For older children, some doctors believe that "fever is your friend" and does not require any treatment such as giving fever-reducing medicines until the fever is 102°F (38.8°C) or if the child is fussy and uncomfortable. There is evidence that fevers help to fight an infection.

In general, the main reason for treating a fever is to keep the child as comfortable as possible rather than getting the temperature back to normal.

If your child's temperature is more than 102°F (38.8°C), you may give your child a fever medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil).

Ibuprofen is not recommended in children under 6 months of age; acetaminophen is preferred. Use ibuprofen or acetaminophen in children over 6 months of age.

Do not alternate ibuprofen and acetaminophen to treat fever unless recommended by your doctor.

Never give aspirin to a child. The use of aspirin has been linked with a rare disorder called Reye's syndrome, which can be fatal.  

Remember that all medicines can be poisonous if too much is taken. Follow instructions on the label. Be sure to keep all medicines out of the reach of children at all times.

Medication for Fever

How much fever medicine do I give?

Acetaminophen comes in different preparations and strengths specially made for infants and children such as infant drops or children's elixir. Each type of medicine requires a different amount be given.

Read the directions on the label about how much to give your child and be sure to measure the dose correctly. If you are not sure how much to give, or your child is under 2 years old, call the doctor or pharmacist; they may ask for your child's weight to compute the correct dose for your child.

Always use medicine made for children. Never give an infant or child a portion of the adult version of the medication.

How do I measure the correct amount of medicine?

If you are using a medicine dropper, hold it at eye level to make sure you are giving the correct amount. Use only the dropper that came with the medicine.

If you are measuring the medicine with a spoon, use an actual measuring spoon, because regular teaspoons come in different sizes and measure different amounts.

If you are using a medicine cup, be sure to fill it to the right mark at eye level.


While it is important to keep a baby from becoming chilled, a baby can also become overheated with many layers of clothing and blankets.

This can occur at home, near heaters, or near heat vents. It can also occur when a baby is over-bundled in a heated car.

Avoid placing a baby in direct sunlight, even through a window.

Never leave a baby in a hot car, even for a minute. The temperature can rise quickly and cause heat stroke and death.

An overheated baby may have a hot, red, or flushed face, and may be restless.

To prevent overheating, keep rooms at a normal temperature, about 72 to 75° F, and dress your baby just like you and others in the room.


  • Take your child's temperature before giving any more fever medication. It is important to know if the fever has gone up or if the temperature is back to normal. This way, you can track a rising fever or avoid giving medicine that is not needed.
  • Do not wake up your child to give medicine or to take a temperature. Sleep is more important.
  • Dress your child in light clothes.
  • Give your child more to drink when he / she has a fever. This will help to prevent dehydration.
  • Allow your child to rest in a cool room.

Last Updated 01/2022

Reviewed By Julie Snider, RN

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