In children under five, a fever is considered to be a temperature higher than 37.5C (99.5F). Fever is very common in young children. Over 60% of parents with children aged between six months and five years say their child has had one.
Fever is usually caused by a minor viral infection, such as a cough or cold, and it can normally be treated at home.
A high temperature in children can be quite worrying for parents and carers, but most children recover with no problems after a few days.
How to tell if your child has a fever
Your child may have a fever if they:
- feel hotter than usual when you touch their forehead, back or stomach
- feel sweaty or clammy
- have flushed cheeks
If you suspect your child has a fever, you should check their temperature with a thermometer. Safe, cheap digital thermometers are available from your local pharmacy, supermarket or online retailers.
Forehead thermometers should not be used as they can give inaccurate results.
How to care for your feverish child
To help keep your child comfortable, you should:
- encourage them to drink plenty of fluids (if you are breastfeeding, offer regular breastfeeds)
- only offer them food if they seem to want it
- look out for signs of dehydration – these can include a dry mouth, no tears, sunken eyes and, in babies, fewer wet nappies and a sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on the head)
- check on your child from time to time during the night
- keep them away from childcare, nursery or school (and let the carer, nursery or school know your child is unwell)
If your child seems distressed, consider giving them children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen. These shouldn’t be given together. However, if you give your child one medicine and it doesn’t seem to be helping, it’s OK to try the other one before the next dose is due.
Always check the instructions on the bottle or packet carefully, and never exceed the recommended dose. Never give aspirin to children under the age of 16.
If your child suffers from asthma, seek advice from your GP or pharmacist before giving ibuprofen.
There’s no need to undress your child or sponge them down with tepid water. Research shows that neither actually helps to reduce fever. Avoid bundling them up in too many clothes or bedclothes.
What to do if you are worried
If you’re worried about your baby or child, call your GP practice. If the practice is closed, call 111 or contact your GP out-of-hours service (there will be a phone number on your GP’s answerphone).
The doctor or nurse you speak to will ask you questions about your child’s symptoms. Your answers will help them decide whether your child can be cared for at home or whether they should be seen at the GP practice, out-of-hours centre or hospital.
Always get medical advice if:
- your baby is under three months old and they have a temperature of 38C (101F) or higher
- your baby is three to six months old and has a temperature of 39C (102F) or higher
- you think your child may be dehydrated
- your child develops a red rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it
- your child has a fit (convulsion)
- your child is inconsolable and doesn’t stop crying, or has a high-pitched or unusual sound when crying
- the fever lasts for more than five days
- your child’s health is getting worse
- you have any concerns about looking after your child at home