How to treat a fever in babies and young children

Got a feverish child at home? What can you do to treat them and make sure you get them on the mend as soon as possible? We’ve got some top tips from Dr Simon Latham

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) update

If your child is very unwell, call your GP surgery, call 111, use the online 111 service or look on the NHS website for advice. For urgent medical help or if your child has symptoms of coronavirus (a fever and/or a new continuous cough), call 111 or use the online 111 service. Call 999 for life-threatening emergencies, if your child has a stiff neck, a seizure or finds it hard to breathe – see other symptoms that mean you should call 999.

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Knowing how to treat a feverish and hot child can sometimes feel really confusing, especially as there is so much conflicting advice out there.

A’fever is defined as any time your baby’s temperature is 38 degrees centigrade or higher and is your baby’s or child’s natural response to fighting an infection.

“Besides feeling hot, your child may be more tired than usual, irritable and off their food and drink,” says Dr Simon Latham, a GP in Altrincham and medical officer at Push Doctor.

How can I keep my feverish child comfortable?

The good news is there are lots of simple things that you can do to help your little one when they have a high temperature.

“Drinking is really important so encourage them to drink plenty of fluids,” says Dr Latham. “Make sure you offer regular breastfeeds if you’re breastfeeding. Only offer them food if they seem to want it.”

It’s quite likely that they may sleep more than usual, so make sure you check on them regularly, even during the night.

On our forum, mum pixie woo’s son Spence recently had a high temperature of 38.6 degrees and fluids and plenty of sleep really helped him.

“He’s napping again, all he wants to do is sleep, bless him. He’s eaten a little and drank a lot of water so I know he’s getting better,” she says.

If they are ill it is also best to keep them at home. “Keep them away from childcare, nursery or school – let the carer, nursery or school know your child is unwell,” says Dr Latham.

How can I treat my feverish child and make her feel better?

If your child’s fever is as a result of a virus, then medication may not take the virus away, but it will help with symptoms and relieve pain.

Dr Latham explains: “Medications are unlikely to help a child with a fever caused by a viral infection to get better.

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“However, if your child is relatively well and is safe to look after at home but they are distressed by the fever then these medications can help them to feel more comfortable.”

And many of the mums on our forum agree they’ve had huge success in bringing a temperature down by using medicine specially formulated for children.

Is it safe to alternate different types of medication when my child has a fever?

NHS advice says that you shouldn’t keep switching between doses of paracetamol and ibuprofen unless directed by a healthcare professional (see more on that guidance on the NHS website).

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And, Dr Latham explains: “Both should not be given at the same time. Always follow the recommended dosage and dose frequency for any medication given to a child or baby.”

Should I strip my baby’s clothes off if they have a fever?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no point in either stripping your child or baby off or giving them extra clothes to wear, as this will have no effect on treating their fever according to experts.

“You should dress them appropriately for the temperature as you would do normally,” stresses Dr Latham. “Do not strip them down or overdress them as neither helps.”

And perhaps, more obviously, the other big no-no is you should absolutely never give children medication that is meant for an adult. Instead, ask your pharmacist for medication specifically designed for children.

What about convulsions?

You may have heard of febrile seizures / convulsions.

“These are fits that occasionally occur when there is a sudden increase in a child’s body temperature,” says Dr Latham.

They usually happen between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, and while they can be very frightening, they are thankfully usually harmless according to the NHS.

Fever-reducing medication won’t actually stop these: “Paracetamol or ibuprofen do not prevent febrile seizures,” says Dr Latham. “Always see a doctor if you are concerned.”

What should I do if I am worried about my child’s fever?

If your child:

  • is less active
  • is breathing more rapidly than normal (but less than 60 breaths a minute)
  • is passing urine less often
  • is not tolerating water or fluids
  • is limping
  • has a swollen joint
  • has had a high temperature for more than 5 days

– then they should be seen by a doctor, says Dr Latham.

Ultimately you know your child and if things don’t feel right it is always best to take your child to be checked over by a doctor. If your level of concern is less urgent, you could always call NHS 111 for some advice.

Pics: Getty

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