Fever in Infants and Children – Overview
The first fever a baby or infant has is often scary for parents. Many parents develop “fever phobia” where they want to bring down their baby’s fever as quickly as possible. Parents, however, should understand that we need not be afraid of fever. On the contrary, having fever is better for the baby most of the times.
In fact, fever is not a disease in itself, rather it is an important part of the healing process. So, don’t be in a hurry to administer fever reducers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen on your infants, the moment you see any sign of fever.
Why Having Fever is Good
Basal body temperature is the temperature the body’s internal organs and is maintained within a range by constant automatic adjustments that our body does. For example, in hot conditions, our body will increase the amount of blood flowing through capillaries under the skin by opening blood vessels and skin pores which makes the body to eliminate excess heat and sweat. In cold environmental conditions, blood vessels contract and conserve energy inside our body; and if needed, our body can generate more heat by shivering.
Fever is part of the body’s defense mechanism against viruses and bacteria. The body produces excess heat, so that foreign bodies can not survive. So, fevers help us to fight the disease, and most often it is a symptom as well.
Indeed, the actions taken to reduce the fever can help the baby to feel better. But it’s preferable to normalize the temperature naturally, especially when your baby’s body is fighting the infection. You should also know that the part of the human brain that controls body temperature (hypothalamus) is not fully developed in children, which means that the temperature of a child can climb up and down very quickly and that children are more sensitive to temperature.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to help a child with fever to feel better is to strip him of clothes, so that excess heat from its body is eliminated easily. But if the baby develops goose bumps or starts shivering, it means that the environment is too cold and baby’s body, which will not result in heat loss. You should not put your baby in cold water (in the shower or bath), because it will just cool the skin, and will not reduce internal temperature; such actions may harm the child.
What is the normal body temperature of a child?
Looking at the possible fluctuations in normal body temperature, there is no single value that can be defined as the onset of fever. However, normal temperature values that are accepted as fever can be based on the following:
- Rectal temperature over 100.4 F (38 C)
- Oral temperature above 100 F (37.8 C)
- Axillary temperature (under the arm) over 99 F (37.2 C)
- Temperature in the ear (tympanic membrane) over 100.4 F (38 C)
- Temperature on the forehead (temporal artery) over 100.4 F (38 C)
The temperature measured at the underarm, ear and forehead are more easily obtained than orally or rectally, but are less precise and, in the case of some children, they must be confirmed by rectal or oral temperature measurement.
Causes of fever in babies and children
First, we must understand that fever itself is not a disease, but a symptom of an illness. Infections are the most common causes of fever in children. Viral diseases and diseases caused by bacteria such as colds, gastroenteritis, ear infections, urinary tract infections and bronchitis are most likely to trigger fever. Tooth eruption may also cause fever. Some of the immunizations done on the baby can also cause temperature rise in an infant, but not all vaccines result in fever.
If your baby is less than 3 months old and is wrapped in excessive warm blankets, it may face an increase in body temperature. So, if you notice symptoms of fever, check the baby’ temperature after undressing it. If the body temperature is more than 38.5 degrees Celsius after undressing, the child will require urgent medical assessment. Babies under three months of age who develop a fever must be checked by a doctor immediately, as it is hard to tell if they have any serious illness or infection.