Few things make a toddler feel worse and parents more worried than a fever. A normal part of many childhood illnesses, fevers can be uncomfortable but don’t always require a trip to the pediatrician’s office. Immunocompromised children or those with illnesses necessitating immediate treatment should follow their doctor’s advice and seek medical attention immediately. If your toddler’s fever doesn’t respond to treatment, or if you have any concerns, contact your doctor right away.
Fevers are the body’s way of fighting infection to destroy invading viruses or bacteria. Viruses, such as chicken pox and influenza, cause fevers. Bacteria, such as those that cause ear infections, bladder infections and strep, can cause a febrile response, or fever, in a child’s body. Commonly, teething also causes low-grade fevers in many children.
Low-grade fevers are lower than 101 degrees Fahrenheit and may present as a symptom of teething. Temperatures between 101 and 103.5 degrees Fahrenheit are mid-grade. High fevers include anything 103.6 degrees and above. Even high temperatures will often respond to treatment with over-the-counter medications. Renowned pediatrician Dr. Bob Sears explains that temperatures that respond to treatment aren’t cause for panic, and you may be able to wait until normal business hours to contact your doctor unless other symptoms occur.
Enough is Enough
Certain signs and symptoms necessitate immediate evaluation and cannot be treated at home. A child who is unresponsive to touch or sound, or who is limp and excessively sleepy is lethargic. Lethargy and extreme irritability are serious symptoms requiring a trip to the doctor’s office during business hours, or the emergency room or urgent care after normal business hours. When in doubt, call your pediatrician for advice and treatment recommendations.
Once a child starts getting uncomfortable and reaches the point of feeling absolutely miserable, giving a fever-reducing medication is appropriate. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are commonly recommended for toddlers. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation recommends choosing one medication instead of alternating between the two. Be sure to read the instructions completely and measure doses carefully to keep from overdosing. Doses is weight dependent, not age, so be sure to have a current weight on your child for accurate dosing. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the proper dose if you are unsure.
Cool and Comfortable
Placing cool washcloths on your toddler’s forehead is soothing and helps lower fevers. Refresh the washcloth often as it warms up, keeping a bowl of cool water by the bedside if necessary. Tepid water baths also help lower fevers, though avoid using cold water. Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician with Baby Center, explains that the shivering could actually increase the temperature even more. While it isn’t wise to overdress a febrile child, be careful that your little one doesn’t get cold either. Maintaining hydration during a fever is important so bodily functions continue properly and healing occurs. Cold juice, frozen pops and electrolyte drinks can simultaneously help maintain hydration and provide cooling.