When to Worry About a Fever

when to worry about a fever

Contributed by Chelsea Wicks, M.D.

fever_bestmedkidsUnless your child is less than two months old, there is no magic number as when he or she has a fever. In newborns, fever is often the only sign of a serious bacterial infection.  In that case a baby with a temperature over 100.4 needs to be evaluated as soon as possible.

In older kids, I honestly don’t have a number for fever that worries me. My primary concern is how the child is acting. I have had children with 104 degree fever running around, playing and eating well. On the other hand, I’ve seen others with a 100 degree temperature who are listless, dehydrated and irritable. 

Other things I look for include the duration of the fever. With most viral infections, it is safe to say the fever should clear within four-to-five days. If it persists beyond that, I become concerned about a possible bacterial infection. I also judge the severity based on how well the fever responds to fever reducers. If you are not able to bring it down with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, there is concern about a more serious infection. 

Some parents may worry about seizures related to high fevers. These types of seizures, called fever seizures or febrile seizures typically happen within the first 24 hours of a fever due the rapid rise in body temperature. 

Each child’s threshold for tolerating a fever is different, so it is important to discuss your concerns with your child’s primary care provider.