Fever Fears

What number does the thermometer have to hit before your child officially has a fever? What's the best type of thermometer to use? When should you head to the doctor's office? MomRN Tamara Walker answers these important questions.

Fever in children is one of the most common parenting concerns. Fever is also the main reason children are seen in the pediatrician's office. Parents frequently ask the following questions:

  • What temperature means my child has a fever?
  • What is the best way to take a child's temperature?
  • What is the best way to treat a fever?
  • When should you go to the doctor or emergency room?

It is important to know that the body's normal temperature can vary slightly from person to person and fluctuates naturally during the day. Although 98.6 F (37 C) is considered the "norm", body temperature can vary from 1 to 2 degrees throughout the day. Generally, body temperature is lowest in the early morning and rises slightly throughout the day, depending on your level of activity.

Fever itself is not an illness; rather it is a symptom of an underlying cause, such as illness, becoming overheated due to heat exposure, dressing too warmly, or overexertion. A fever is rarely harmful or dangerous and in fact, it can be beneficial for fighting infection. It is a natural defense response to help kill bacteria and viruses and to heal from infection. The best method for taking your child's temperature varies depending on your child's age.

For infants, a rectal temperature is the most accurate. This can be done using a digital thermometer and petroleum or KY jelly. Hold your baby on her belly across your lap, or lay her face down on a flat surface, turn on the thermometer, clear any previous readings, insert the thermometer approximately ½" to 1" and hold until it beeps or signals that it is finished reading.

For toddlers and older children, a digital thermometer can be used to take an oral temperature or an axillary temperature (under the arm). Your child must be able to hold the thermometer still under her tongue and not breathe through her mouth, and not have had anything to eat or drink within 30 minutes of taking an oral temperature in order to have an accurate reading. If this is not possible, you can use the digital thermometer under the arm, against the skin only, to take an axillary temperature. Oral temperatures are usually 1 degree lower than the rectal temperature and axillary temperatures are usually 1 ½ to 2 degrees lower than the rectal temperature.

earthermometerTympanic (ear) thermometers can be used for children older than 3 months but may give less accurate readings than digital thermometers. Forehead strips and pacifier thermometers may be able to tell you if your child has a fever, but are usually not accurate in telling the amount of fever. The new forehead thermometers are also not as accurate as a digital one. Glass thermometers, while highly accurate, are no longer recommended due to the risk of breakage and mercury exposure. If you take your child to the doctor, let her know which method you used.


The best way to treat a fever depends on how high it is. And, how do you know when it's time to head to the doctor's? For important information, CLICK HERE.

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