For many parents, fever is one of the most concerning and alarming symptoms a child can have. There are many scary fever myths out there – and it’s time to set the record straight! To many pediatricians, fever is considered a good sign that the body is mounting a response to an infection. Here are my top five fever myths and facts:
MYTH #1: Temperatures between 98.7°F and 100°F (37.1°C to 37.8°C) are low-grade fevers.
FACT: These temperatures are actually normal variations and are not fevers. The body’s temperature changes throughout the day and is naturally higher in the afternoon and evening. An actual fever is any temperature of 100.4°F or higher.
MYTH #2: Fevers are bad, can cause brain damage or seizures and are dangerous to my child.
FACT: Fevers are a protective mechanism and a sign that the body's immune system is turned on. Most fevers are good for sick children and help the body fight infection. Fevers do not cause brain damage. As for seizures, the vast majority (96 percent) of children do not have seizures with a fever. About 4 percent of children can have a seizure with a fever – this is called a febrile seizure. Febrile seizures are scary to watch, but they usually stop within five minutes. They do not cause brain damage or have long-term side effects. Children who have had febrile seizures are not at greater risk for developmental delays or learning disabilities.
MYTH #3: All fevers need to be treated with fever medicine (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen). After treatment, the fever should go away completely.
FACT: Fevers need to be treated only if the child is uncomfortable. For young children, that usually means fevers over 102°F or 103°F (39°C or 39.4°C). With treatment, fevers usually come down 2°F or 3°F (1.1°C or 1.7°C) but may not go away completely. There is no harm in not treating a fever.
MYTH #4: The exact number of the temperature is very important. If the fever is high, the cause is serious.
FACT: How your child looks is what's important, not the exact temperature. If the fever is high, the cause may or may not be serious. If your child looks very well, the cause is likely to be less serious. One exception is in babies who are less than 3 months of age. They should always be seen by a health care provider right away if they have a fever because their immune systems are not fully developed. If it’s the weekend and your baby spikes a fever, it’s best to call your doctor's office and take them to an urgent care.
MYTH #5: If the fever doesn't come down (if you can't "break the fever"), the cause is serious.
FACT: Whether a fever comes down or not, is not related to the seriousness of the infection. The height of the fever and how long it lasts does not tell us whether it is caused by a virus or bacteria. What matters most is how your child looks.