Ask the Pediatrician: When is a Fever Too High?


If your child has a high temperature, it’s not necessarily cause for alarm. We asked Dr. Jose Cucalon when to let a fever run its course and when to seek medical attention.

A fever can be caused by many things, including a virus or even certain medications. We asked Jose Cucalon, M.D., of Renown Pediatrics to explain more about fevers and when to seek medical attention.

What is a fever and why do we get them?  

A fever is any temperature above 100.4 degrees, and while it can be frightening for any parent when your child feels warm, fevers serve an important purpose. They are a side effect of the body trying to fight either a bacterial or viral infection. Fever occurs when an area in your brain called the hypothalamus shifts the set point of your normal body temperature upward. Fever or elevated body temperature might be caused by:

  • A virus
  • A bacterial infection
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Certain inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • A malignant tumor
  • Some medications, such as antibiotics and drugs used to treat high blood pressure or seizures
  • Some immunizations, such as the diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP) or pneumococcal vaccine

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Our team of pediatricians, specialists and nurse practitioners have specialized training in children’s healthcare needs. We see children from birth to age 18 for the following pediatric needs:

  • Wellness and preventive visits
  • Sick visits
  • Immunizations
  • Behavioral health
  • Allergy
  • Asthma
  • Common cold
  • Diabetes

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What can a parent do at home if their child has a fever?

While most fevers come down on their own, sometimes it is necessary to reduce a fever for a child’s comfort. Fevers don’t always need to be medicated and it’s important to treat the child, not the fever. Some recommendations to reduce a fever are:

  • Cool compresses
  • Placing ice in the armpit or groin
  • Lukewarm baths
  • Tylenol for children over 2 months old

When should you seek medical attention?     

Once a child is over the age of 3 months, a fever is less cause for concern. However, fevers in children under the age of 3 months always be evaluated, generally in an ER where testing can be done quickly and easily. Their immune systems are not fully developed, leaving them vulnerable to infections.

You should also seek medical attention in the following situations:

  • Duration and treatment: The fever lasts longer than five days and is not responding to medications, including Tylenol or Motrin.
  • Return: A fever returns after several days. Your child should be evaluated for potential secondary infections such as ear or sinus infections.
  • Immunizations: Your child was recently immunized and has a fever that is above 102 or lasts longer than 48 hours.
  • Behavior: Your child’s behavior is not normal, you have difficulty rousing them or they’re not consuming enough liquids.
  • Temperature: A fever rises above 103 degrees.

If in doubt, always seek medical attention.