Fever is defined as a higher than normal body temperature. “Normal” temperature however, can change with age, general health, activity, clothing, and even the time of day! For instance, it is normal to have a lower temperature in the morning and a higher temperature in the afternoon. How a temperature is measured will also affect the number. Rectal temperatures are slightly higher than oral temperatures. Temperatures measured under the arm (or axilla) tend to be less reliable. Tympanic (ear) temperatures can be underestimated by ear wax or incorrect positioning of the specialized 02 thermometer in the ear.
A common cause of fever is infection. Fever can occur with many types of infections, from minor to serious. Most children get a few infections per year. Despite numerous myths to the contrary, fevers are not inherently dangerous or bad. Below are some common misconceptions about fever.
Myth: Fevers are bad for children.
Truth: Fevers are generally “good” because they activate the immune system which helps fight infection.
Myth: Fevers can cause brain damage over 104o F.
Truth: Fevers with infection don’t cause brain damage. Temperatures above 108 o F can cause brain damage but only go this high because of high environmental temperatures, such as enclosure in a hot car.
Myth: Fevers can cause seizure in any child.
Truth: Fevers with seizure (febrile seizures) occur in only about 4% of children. While very scary to see, these seizures usually stop within 5 minutes and cause no permanent harm.
Myth: All fevers need to be treated. If you don’t treat a fever, it will get higher.
Truth: Fevers only need to be treated if they cause discomfort (usually when over 102 – 103 o F.) The brain stops fever from infection going over 105 to 106 o C. Even without treatment, most fevers will not get close to this upper limit.
Myth: Fevers should come down to normal with treatment. If a fever doesn’t come down, the cause must be serious.
Truth: With treatment, fevers usually come down by 2-3 o F. The bacterial or viral infection causing the fever determines the seriousness of the illness, not the fever itself.
Myth: High fevers mean the cause is serious.
Truth: How ill your child looks is the best indication of how serious the cause of fever is, not the other way around. As always, YOU are the expert on your child. Remember this when your child picks up the unavoidable bug this cold and flu season. If your child looks very ill, have them seen by their provider, regardless of their temperature.