Monitoring your child’s temperature
A FEVER is defined by most healthcare providers as an elevation in body temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) and higher. The body has several ways to maintain normal body temperature. The organs involved in helping with temperature regulation include the brain, skin, muscle, and blood vessels.
The body responds to changes in temperature by increasing or decreasing sweat production; moving blood away from, or closer to, the surface of the skin; getting rid of, or holding on to, water in the body; or seeking a cooler or warmer environment.
When your child has a fever, the body works the same way to control the temperature, but it has temporarily reset its thermostat at a higher temperature. According to Dr Tashalee McGrath-Balgrove, paediatrician, fever indicates a sign of other problems in the body that trigger the immune system to release chemicals that causes the temperature to rise.
“The temperature increases for a number of reasons as the body tries to make natural antibodies, which fight infection. These antibodies will recognise the infection next time it tries to invade. The most common cause is viral infections, including the common cold, influenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, and Roseola,” Dr McGrath-Balgrove said.
“A fever can also be caused by bacteria, namely ear infections, urinary tract infections, throat or sinus infections, post vaccinations or overheating,” she added.
Dr McGrath-Balgrove said if your baby is less than three months old, and has a fever, they will need immediate medical attention. “Even if your baby appears well and no other symptoms, babies can have serious infections that worsen within minutes. This is usually caused by bacteria,” she said.
In children between six months and five years of age, fever can trigger seizures. A child may get an odd look on their face for a few moments, stiffen or twitch, roll their eyes, and become unresponsive for a short time.
“Febrile convulsions typically lasts less than a minute, or even just a few seconds, though it can seem forever to a frightened parent. Febrile convulsions are not common and almost are harmless, causing no lasting damage to the brain or nervous system. If your baby has a febrile convulsion, be sure to tell your doctor promptly,” Dr McGrath-Balgrove said.
There are different ways to check your child’s temperature. These include oral (mouth) temperature, ear temperature which is not accurate before six months, forehead temperature which must be digital or rectal temperature which is the most accurate for children.
Parents are advised to have a thermometer on hand at home to check their child’s temperature. “Once your child is four years old, you can take a temperature by mouth, also referred to as oral temperature. Turn the thermometer on and place the tip under one side of your child’s tongue towards the back of the mouth. Have your child hold the thermometer with their lips and fingers. Keep the lips sealed over the thermometer until it beeps. Check the digital reading,” Dr McGrath-Balgrove said.
Taking a rectal temperature gives the best reading, especially for infants under three months of age. “Put a small amount of lubricant, such as petroleum jelly, on the end of the thermometer and on your child’s bottom. Place your child belly down across your lap or on a firm surface. Turn the thermometer on and slide it ½ inch for babies less than six months old to one inch into the anus. There should be no resistance, if there is, stop. Leave the thermometer in place until it beeps, then remove and check for digital reading,” Dr McGarth-Balgrove said.
Your child’s temperature may also be taken by the axillary method, which is holding the tip of the thermometer in the middle of the armpit with one hand, and using the other hand to hold your child’s arm snugly against their side. Hold the thermometer in place for three to four minutes.
Thermometers should be disinfected before and after use with disinfecting soap and water or disinfecting alcohol swab.
You can manage a child’s fever by dressing them in light clothing. Excess clothing will trap body heat and cause the temperature to rise. Do not wrap in a blanket and do not apply alcohol. Increase fluid intake including coconut water, Pedialyte and water. For babies, continue to breastfeed.
“It is OK if your child does not want to eat much. Offer soft foods in small amounts, and do not force them to eat. Give sponge baths in lukewarm water, and do not wake the child if they are sleeping. Do not allow your child to shiver from cold water, as it can raise the body temperature,” Dr McGrath-Balgrove said.
You should contact your healthcare provider immediately if your child looks very ill, is unusually drowsy or is very fussy. Also, if the child has other symptoms, such as a stiff neck, severe headache, severe sore throat, severe ear pain, or unexplained rash or repeated vomiting or diarrhoea.
If your child has signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth, sunken soft spot, or significantly fewer wet diapers and unable to take in fluid, you should also contact your doctor immediately.
Also contact your healthcare provider if:
• Your child is three months old or younger and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.
• Your child is of any age and has repeated fevers above 104°F (40°C);
• Your child is younger than two years of age and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) that lasts for more than a day; and
• Your child is age two or older and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) that lasts for more than three days.