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Facts about childhood fever

Fevers scare many parents. When a child's temperatures rises, it can induce panic and helplessness. But when parents recognize that fevers are oftentimes not incredibly harmful to children, that recognition can reduce panic and overreliance on fever-reducing medication.

If a child is healthy, a fever does not necessarily indicate anything serious. A fever is a rise in temperature initiated by the hypothalamus in the brain, which acts as the body's internal thermostat. The average body temperature is 98.6 F (37 C), but if body temperature is measured consistently throughout the day, this temperature will fluctuate. In fact, body temperature is often lower in the morning and higher in the middle of the day.

In many cases, the hypothalamus raises body temperature as the result of an infection or illness, according to the Nemours Foundation for Children's Health. It is believed that making the body less hospitable to viruses and bacteria helps reduce their propensity to grow and multiply.

A fever is often a good indicator that a person is sick, which can sometimes be difficult to determine if there are no apparent symptoms. This can parents and doctors discover what is triggering the fever.

For parents of toddlers and older children, a fever of 103 F or less is generally nothing to run to the doctor about. There is no inherent harm in letting the fever run its course, and it can actually prove beneficial in fighting the viral or bacterial illness that is causing the fever in the first place.

If your child is a newborn, a fever of 101 F or higher can be considered a medical emergency and should be evaluated by a doctor right away. Youngsters ages 7 weeks to 3 months should be brought to a doctor immediately if they have a fever of 101 or higher.

If a child has a fever of 104 or higher and his or her body temperature will not come down to 101 or 102, even with treatment, this is a cause for concern. This guideline, courtesy of renowned childhood medical expert Dr. Sears, can help parents determine if their child's body temperature is something they should be concerned about.

* Normal temperature - 97 to 99 degrees (36 to 37.2 Celsius).

* Low-grade fever - 99 to 100.9 degrees (37.3 to 38.3 Celsius).

* Common fever - 101 to 103.5 degrees (38.4 to 39.7 Celsius).

* High fever - any fever over 103.6 degrees (39.8 Celsius).

Most pediatricians agree that a fever should not be treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen if it is not making a child extremely uncomfortable. These medications can be used if the child has pain or is complaining about how they feel about the fever. Acetaminophen is used every 4 hours while ibuprofen lasts a little longer and is given every 6 to 8 hours.

When checking fevers, parents often wonder which thermometer is best. While some parents employ the lips-on-the-forehead method, there are more accurate methods of determining temperature readings.

* Glass rectal or oral/underarm thermometers: These have been around the longest and have a proven record of accuracy. They do take the longest to read a temperature and can be difficult when dealing with fidgety kids.

* Ear thermometer: This quick and easy thermometer has become a favorite method. But accuracy can vary, giving different readings from each ear.

* Temporal thermometer: Another quick method, this thermometer is swept across the temporal artery in the forehead and has a better accuracy rating than the ear thermometer.