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Managing Fever Phobia: February 22, 2013

Keeping a cool head is easier said than done, when it’s your child who has a fever.

“I think the natural inclination is to be nervous and you want to figure out what the cause is and figure out what you need to do to get it better,” says Caitlin Schultheis, mother.

In the heat of the moment, about 1.6 million children a year are rushed to the emergency room.

“These viral illnesses typically have a time of the day they’re worse and sadly that is often in the evening, the time that the physicians’ offices aren’t open. So we do see a lot of ER visits with the sole presenting trouble is a feverish child,” says Dr. Nancy Witham, pediatrician with Lee Memorial Health System.

Experts say it’s important to treat the child, not the number. In fact, pediatricians don’t consider a temperature a fever until it tops 100.4 - but too many people see the slightest elevation and grab the fever reducer.

“The first thing we look at is how the child is feeling? If they are happily watching TV and 5 minutes ago said ‘mom can I have something to eat’ you don’t have to do something for that fever,” says Dr. Witham.

Fever reducers drop the temperature a degree or two, and should only be used to comfort your tot. Fevers are the body’s way of fighting illness; there is research that shows they are beneficial to healing.

“Reducing the fever may delay how fast your child gets better which gives you that difficult balance. Should you give the fever reducer to make them feel a little bit better or should you see how they’re doing. That may actually help them get better a little bit faster,” says Dr. Witham.

Some fevers deserve prompt medical attention: they include a child under two months, if the fever lasts longer than 5 days, if the child has a chronic disease, if they also have a stiff neck, and if they’re vomiting and not drinking. The rest are left for parents to decide.

“As long as they stay low; anything above 102.5 is usually a sign that I definitely need to take them to the doctor,” says Marlene McCleary, mom.

The most painful for a parent, may be letting a fever run its course.