Understanding Fever In Kids
Fever In Kids – How Bad Is It?
We have all seen it before – Your child comes home from school feeling sick, they have a sore throat and are not feeling well. The first thing you do is reach for the thermometer and sure enough your loved one has a fever.
What is a fever?
It’s In The Brain
A fever actually starts in the hypothalamus – the center of the brain which acts as your body’s thermostat. The hypothalamus understands what your temperature should be and will send signals to your body to keep it there.
Normal body temperature for a human being is around 37°C (98.6°F). Although for some people normal temperature may be a little higher or lower.
During the day your body temperature may change, in adults it is usually a little lower of a morning and little higher of an evening, but in children their body temperature remains pretty much constant day in day out – until they get a bug…
Why do we get Fevers?
Everyone who has had a sore throat knows how bad they can make you feel, and the aches and pains of the flu are no stranger to most. These types of infection are caused by germs, usually bacteria or viruses.
Once you have contracted a bacterial (bacteria) or viral (virus) infection certain chemicals may be released into the blood stream, it is these chemicals which tell your hypothalamus to set your bodies temperature at a higher level.
Why Does The Hypothalamus Increase Body Temperature?
Increasing body temperature is your body’s way of stimulating the immune system and fighting germs; many germs are heat sensitive and will die when the temperature is increased.
- Once the hypothalamus has set a new temperature your body will respond, you may begin to shiver as the muscle contractions used to initiate shivering also increase your body temperature; you may feel very cold and find it difficult to get warm.
- When you reach the new temperature you will no longer feel cold as the hypothalamus believes your temperature is where it is supposed to be.
When the infection is gone the hypothalamus will reset everything back to its normal position and your body will go through the motions of cooling itself down.
- You may feel very hot and need to remove some clothing
- You may start to sweat; this is the body’s natural air conditioning system (Moisture evaporating off the skin works like an evaporative air cooler and is an excellent cooling system for your body)
- You may appear redder than normal as your body sends blood to the skins surface so it can be cooled.
Just A Thought
A fever is your body’s way of fighting off infection, lowering the fever with medication or other methods will not help kill the underlying cause, in fact it is quite possible that lowering the temperature before the bug is gone may prolong the illness as you are reducing the body’s natural ability to fight it off.
For most kids fevers do not pose any great problem, once the cause of the fever is gone the body temperature will return to normal with no side effects or complications. If the child is very uncomfortable you may lower the fever artificially but this is often not necessary.
This is not the case for newborns and young infants – they should be evaluated by a doctor immediately if the fever reaches 38°C (100.4°F) or higher.
Treatment without medication
- Place a damp wash cloth on the Child’s forehead
- Give a lukewarm sponge bath (not cold – be careful not to cool them too quickly, if you cause them to shiver the temperature can increase and cooling too much too quickly may cause hypothermia)
- Give plenty of fluids and chilled foods to keep them hydrated and cool them down from inside
- Make sure they are in an area with good air circulation, do not put a fan directly on them (may cause shivering)
- Remove layers of clothing to help lose heat through the skin, one light layer is generally fine (if they shiver give them a blanket until it stops)
- Stay in a cool place indoors or in the shade outside
Treatment With Medication
The most recommended non prescription medications are Acetaminophen and ibuprofen; both of these medications used as directed are safe and effective. They work by blocking the chemicals which tell the hypothalamus that it should increase body temperature.
• Do not give your child aspirin, it can cause upset stomach, intestinal bleeding and more seriously Reye syndrome