Childhood Fever

Childhood fever is very common, particularly in young children.  A fever itself usually lasts 3-4 days causing no harm, and can be a good thing as it is often a sign that the body is fighting infection.  However, in some cases a high temperature can be a sign of a more serious infection.  It is important to know how to treat and manage your child’s fever and when to seek medical help.  The normal body temperature for a child varies and naturally fluctuates throughout the day. A child is considered to have a fever when their temperature is 38°C (100.4°F) or higher.


A number of factors can cause childhood fever, such as vaccinations and common childhood illnesses like tonsillitis and chicken pox.  If your child is suffering from a fever, they may feel hotter than usual, particularly on their forehead, stomach or back.  They may also feel clammy and sweaty and be flushed in the face.  Use a digital thermometer to take your child’s temperature.  If your child has a temperature:


  • Keep them hydrated
  • Give them food if they are hungry
  • Check on your child regularly throughout the night
  • Keep them at home and rested
  • Give them paracetamol if they are distressed and unwell
  • Seek medical advice if you’re worried about your child’s symptoms


Avoid the following when treating childhood fever:


  • Try not to cover them up in too many clothes or blankets
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 16
  • Do not mix ibuprofen and paracetamol, unless instructed to by a GP
  • Do not give paracetamol to children under 2 months old
  • Do not give ibuprofen to children under 3 month’s old or under 5kg
  • Do not give ibuprofen to children with asthma


Causes of Childhood Fever

Childhood fever is typically caused by viral and bacterial infections.  The high body temperature makes it difficult for the bacteria and viruses that cause infections to survive.  Common conditions that can cause fevers include:


  • Upper respiratory tract infections (RTIs)
  • The flu, coughs and colds
  • Ear infections
  • Roseola (a virus that results in a temperature and a rash)
  • Tonsillitis
  • Urinary tract or kidney infections (UTIs)
  • Common childhood illnesses, such as whooping cough and chicken pox
  • Less often, a fever can be a sign of serious illnesses such as meningitis or septicaemia


Your child’s temperature can also be raised following a vaccination, or if they overheat due to too much bedding or clothing.  Children can also develop a fever as a symptoms linked to other health conditions.  Some autoimmune conditions, some cancers and kidney and liver disease may all result in fever.


Symptoms of Childhood Fever

If your child is suffering with a fever they will have a body temperature of 38°C or higher.  They may feel or appear generally unwell and may not be as energetic and involved as normal.  They may not have an appetite or want to drink.
Your child’s temperature alone is not always a sign of how serious their illness is.  In some cases, minor illnesses can result in a very high temperature, while some serious infections can cause only a small rise in temperature.  Depending on what is causing the fever, you may notice other symptoms of an infection such as:


  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Earache (your child may clutch at their ears)
  • Cold like symptoms such as a cough, runny nose or wheezy breathing
  • A rash
  • Sweating
  • Shivering and chills
  • Headaches
  • Aching muscles
  • Lack of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Dehydration
  • General weakness


Children between the age of 6 months and 5 years old may experience febrile seizures.  A febrile seizure is a convulsion in a child caused by a spike in body temperature.  They generally last a few minutes but about a third of children who experience a febrile seizure will have another one, most commonly within the next 12 months.


Diagnosing Childhood Fever 

You can check whether your child has a fever at home by taking their temperature using a thermometer.  Forehead thermometers can be unreliable, so it is better to use one of the methods listed below:


  • If your child is younger than four weeks old, use an electronic thermometer to take their temperature under their arm (in their armpit)


  • For children between one month and five years old, check their temperature under their arm or in their ear using an electronic thermometer.


  • For children over the age of five, use a digital mouth thermometer


To ensure you achieve an accurate reading it is important to follow the instructions that come with the thermometer.


Childhood fever by itself is not necessarily a cause for alarm or a reason to call your doctor.  If you visit your doctor they will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history followed, by a physical examination.  It is important to let your doctor know if you have been abroad recently or had contact with people that have.  They will check your child’s temperature and heart rate.  The doctor may also check for other signs of infection by examining your child’s abdomen, ears and listening to their breathing.


The doctor may find an obvious cause for the fever so they may not need to carry out further tests.  However, if there is not a clear cause, your doctor may ask for a urine sample and refer your child to a paediatrician for further tests. The paediatrician may order tests such as a chest X-ray.  In babies under 28 days, they may be admitted to hospital for tests, as a fever could point to a serious infection that requires intravenous (IV) medications and constant monitoring.


Treatment of Childhood Fever

Not all childhood fever needs to be treated.  In the majority of cases, a fever should be treated only if it is causing your child distress.  A fever in children is often triggered by a viral infection and will get better on its own.  To treat your child’s fever, the best thing you can do is keep them comfortable and wait for them to get better.


At Home
It is important to keep your child hydrated by giving them plenty of cool water to drink.  Babies should be given plenty of liquids, such as breast milk or formula.  Even if your child does not seem thirsty, try to get them to drink little and often to keep their fluid levels up.


To keep your child cool and comfortable in a warm environment, try covering them in a lightweight sheet or opening a window.  Make sure they are still appropriately dressed for their surroundings.  Do not actively try to cool your child; sponging your child with cool water to reduce the fever is not recommended.


Sometimes, a fever can be a sign of a more serious illness, which is why it is important to keep an eye out for any changes in behaviour and any other symptoms.  While your child has a fever, it is best to keep them off school or nursery.


In the case of a childhood fever that is causing discomfort, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter medication, such as paracetamol ibuprofen.  Paediatric paracetamol or ibuprofen work to help reduce fever, as well as offering pain relief. You cannot administer them both at the same time, but if one does not work, try the other later.


Ensure you keep track of how much paracetamol or ibuprofen your child has had and when it was administered.  This will help to ensure you don not give them more than the recommended dose.  Always follow the recommended dosage on the packet or prescribed by your doctor.


Depending on the cause of the fever, or if your GP thinks your child has a bacterial infection, they may prescribe a course of antibiotics, although they do not treat viral infections.  The best form of treatment for the majority of minor illnesses caused by viruses is plenty of fluids and rest.



Childhood fever is very common, and in most cases they feel better and completely back to normal within a few days.  In the case of older babies and children, the way they behave can be more important than the reading on your thermometer.  Call your doctor for advice if you are ever in doubt about the best course of action. It is important to remember that potentially serious causes of fever are rare.


Need Help?

If you are concerned about childhood, speak to your doctor for a referral to One Ashford Hospital.  Our Paediatric Consultants are highly experienced in diagnosing and treating babies and children who are struggling with abdominal pain, and our medical team and paediatric nursing staff are here to offer support in a caring environment at all times.


To make an appointment to see a Consultant Paediatric Consultant, please contact the reservations team on 01233 364 036 or email us here


One Ashford Hospital is located in Kent and is ideal for private, insured and NHS patients located in Ashford, Dover, Canterbury, Folkestone, Maidstone and all nearby areas.