temperature, but it’s important to stay calm – a fever is simply a sign that your child is fighting off an infection. Here’s what to do if you think your child has a fever:
The term ‘core temperature’ refers to the temperature of the deep tissues within the body. This is usually kept at a very even level by the natural, automatic adjustments of the body’s internal systems.
🌡️ The normal temperature of a child is 36ºC to 36.8ºC (97.7ºF to 99.1ºF)
How to take your child’s temperature
There are several ways you can take your child’s temperature at home:
• Ear thermometer
An ear thermometer is a quick and easy way to take your child’s temperature, as it gives a read-out in seconds. To ensure a reliable measurement, the thermometer must be used exactly as directed.The ear canal has a natural curve – to ensure the thermometer is pointing towards the eardrum, it may be necessary to pull the top part of your child’s ear gently upwards during the reading.
Also note that if your child has been lying with their head on a warm pillow, or has just come inside out of the cold, you will need to wait 10 to 15 minutes before the ear will provide an accurate measurement of body temperature.
• Probe thermometer
Place a probe thermometer gently in your child’s mouth, underneath their tongue. It will take two to three minutes to measure the temperature accurately.
Please note that if your child has just eaten anything hot or cold, you will need to wait ten minutes before an accurate temperature can be taken.This method is not suitable for a baby or toddler, because they may bite and break the thermometer.
• Armpit temperature
Temperature readings from the armpit are not all that reliable – they are generally about 0.5ºC lower than mouth temperature. This method is also not ideal for young children, given that they have to be able to stay still for a fairly long period of time.
For children old enough to co-operate, you will need to keep the thermometer under their armpit for at least five minutes.
Skin surface temperature
Normally done using a forehead strip, please note this is the least reliable method of taking your child’s temperature – be aware they provide a rough guide only.
Why do children get a fever?
While many parents start to panic as soon as their child’s temperature begins to rise (we know – we’ve been there!), fever is actually an important part of the body’s defence mechanism. The body creates extra heat to ensure foreign organisms (bacteria and/or viruses) cannot survive. In simple terms, a high temperature helps your child to fight illness, which means that, in most cases, fever is a good thing.
What to do if your child has a fever
While attempting to reduce a child’s fever can make them feel more comfortable, it’s not a good idea to try to normalise the temperature while they’re fighting off an infection. It’s true that, in rare cases, some children may have a seizure (fit) if their temperature shoots up quickly, but as this is quite uncommon, it’s not a reason to try to reduce the temperature of a child with a fever.
However, you should certainly help to make your child feel more comfortable. Here are some tips to remember:
✔️ Remove layers
One of the simplest and most effective ways to help a child with a fever to feel more comfortable is to remove some of their clothing. Your child only needs to wear underwear or a nappy, which will help the heat escape from their body. If your child shivers while their temperature is rising, it’s fine to cover them with a duvet or a blanket. However, as soon as your child’s temperature has stabilised or they start sweating, they need to cool down – it’s a myth that you need to sweat out a fever, so don’t do it.
✔️ Keep your child cool
Make sure their room is ventilated and cool, but not draughty or cold. Goose bumps or shivering is the body’s way to warm back up, so if they feel too cold and their body responds in this way, they will actually not lose heat. Don’t put them in a cold bath or shower either, because while their skin will cool down, their core temperature will rise.
✔️ Give them plenty of fluids
A child with a high temperature needs to drink more water than usual, because the fever will make them sweat more. Make sure your child takes on plenty of fluids – a teaspoonful every few minutes, if necessary. As long as they drink plenty of liquid, it won’t matter too much if they eat very little for a few days.
✔️ Rest is best
Rest and sleep are two of the best ways your child can fight their infection, which will in turn reduce their fever. They don’t have to be in bed all day if they feel like playing, but they must have the opportunity to lie down.
✔️ Give them attention
Poorly children often want their parents around for comfort and reassurance. If possible, make sure you’re on hand for lots of cuddles and comfort, to help nurse them back to full health.
If you want to use medication to lower their temperature, your doctor or pharmacist will be able to give advice. Paracetamol suspension (such as Calpol) is the usual choice, while ibuprofen (such as Nurofen for children) is an alternative. Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years of age.
When should you see the doctor?
Look at your child and use your common sense. Do they seem exhausted or ill? Are they behaving differently? If the answer is yes, call the doctor.
You should also call your doctor if any of the following applies:
- Your baby is less than three months old
- Your child cries and cries and will not be comforted
- Your child has a temperature over 38ºC (101.3ºF) for more than three days
- Your child has just had an operation
- Your child doesn’t seem to be getting better
⚠️ If your child experiences any of the following, seek urgent medical assistance:
- A stiff neck
- Affected by bright lights
- Red rash or blue/purple dots or patches on their skin
- Trouble breathing
- They don’t wake up easily
- Cramps or leg pains
- Continued vomiting or diarrhoea
- Continued tonsillitis
- Pain when urinating, or urinating more than usual
- Other illnesses
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