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Fever (a high temperature) is common in children. Fever is a normal response to many illnesses, the most common being an infection in the body. Fever itself is usually not harmful – in fact, it helps the body's immune system fight off infection.
While fevers can be concerning for parents, doctors will usually be more concerned about what is causing the fever, and not what the child’s temperature is. It is more important for you to monitor any symptoms of the underlying illness, rather than the fever itself.
Your child has a fever when their temperature reads above 38°C on a thermometer.
Your child may also be:
If your baby is under three months and has a fever above 38°C, then you should see a doctor, even if they have no other symptoms.
There are a number of ways you can take a child’s temperature. Each method measures your child’s temperature in a different way, and the results can vary depending on the type of thermometer you use. Different methods include:
Some thermometers are more suitable for particular age groups so you should always read and follow the manufacturer's directions to get an accurate reading. You can also ask your Maternal and Child Health Nurse, GP or pharmacist to show you how to use your thermometer. Do this before you need it.
Some children can have convulsions (a 'fit' or seizure) when they have a fever. These are called febrile convulsions. Your child may have a febrile convulsion if their temperature goes up suddenly. Sometimes, a convulsion happens when parents don't actually know their child has a fever. Febrile convulsions are not common and do not usually cause any long term health effects. See our fact sheet
The infection that leads to a fever is often caused by a virus, and sometimes by bacteria. Only bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Viral infections are far more common and do not need antibiotics, because antibiotics do not cure viruses.
Lowering your child’s fever will not help treat the underlying illness more quickly. The only advantage of lowering a fever is improving your child’s comfort.
If your child seems well and is happy, there is no need to treat a fever. If your child is miserable, there are things you can do to help them to feel more comfortable:
Watch your child for signs that their illness is getting worse.
If your baby is under three months and has a fever above 38°C, or if your child is immunocompromised (has a weakened immune system) due to a medical condition or medical treatment and has a fever above 38°C, then you should see a GP, even if they have no other symptoms.
For all other children, take them to see a GP if their temperature is above 38°C and they have any of the following symptoms:
Also take your child to a GP if they:
Should I be worried about my child’s fever?
Doctors do not focus on fever in a child. They are more concerned about how your child looks and feels – if your child is not drinking, is lethargic and not themselves, or they have had a persistent fever for two or more days, that is when a doctor may try to work out what is causing the fever, and may require a blood test or urine sample.
Can teething cause a fever?
Children who are teething may have a fever of up to 38°C. However, a temperature greater than 38°C should never just be attributed to teething. It is more likely that an infection is present.
Even after pain relief, my child has a fever. Should I be worried?
Not if your child is feeling better and their other symptoms have improved. Paracetamol and ibuprofen may not make the fever go away, but the aim is to make your child feel better. If the fever has lasted for more than two days without getting better, see a doctor.
When I feel sick, my GP advises me to take aspirin. Can I also use this for my child?
Aspirin should never be given to a child to help manage their fever. It can lead to a dangerous condition called Reye syndrome. It should only be given when specifically recommended by a doctor. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used instead.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine and Emergency departments, and Centre for Community Child Health. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed September 2018.
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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.