When assessing your child's condition, the most important thing to do is to
observe how your child is acting. How sick does your child seem to you? A child
with a fever may be pale or flushed, feel hot to the touch, and have dry or
sweaty skin. He may feel restless, achy, unable to sleep, and unwilling to eat.
Be aware of other symptoms that accompany your child's fever. If a feverish
child has red spots on his skin, a runny nose, and eyes that are red and
perhaps more sensitive to light than usual, he may be getting measles
(see Measles). If a child has a fever and red, itchy spots on his body,
he may be coming down with chickenpox (see CHICKENPOX). A baby with a
fever in combination with a reddish-pink rash and swollen glands in his neck
may have roseola.
If your child has a slight fever, no intervention may be necessary. Unless your child's temperature is higher than 102°F, fever-reducing medication is generally not needed. However, a child with an elevated temperature may be very uncomfortable. A feverish child typically doesn't rest or desire food. His whole body aches. A fever raises the child's overall metabolic rate. When his metabolism is racing, your child can easily lose weight and body fluids. Gently bringing a fever down can not only help your child feel better, but can also help to prevent complications, such as dehydration.
Bringing down a fever can also help indicate the severity of your child's illness and aid in diagnosis. With a temperature of 103°F or more, a child will look and feel terrible, whether the fever is caused by a cold or a serious infection. After the fever is brought down, the child with a cold will look and feel noticeably better-a strong indication that it was the fever itself that was causing the child to look and feel ill-whereas the child with a serious infection will continue to look and feel sick, even with a lower temperature.
In some cases, a feverish child may have what is called a febrile seizure. Febrile seizures, which occur in a very small percentage of children, are frightening to see. They do not seem to be related to the height of the fever, or to the rapidity with which it rises, but rather to the idiosyncratic predisposition of certain children. About 50 percent of the children who suffer one febrile seizure will go on to have another one. About 33 percent will have a third one. If your child experiences a febrile seizure, there is a good chance that he could have another.
Although seeing your child experience a seizure is distressing, there is no evidence that febrile seizures cause any permanent harm, nor that this type of convulsion leads to epilepsy or any other seizure disorder. However, if your child has a febrile seizure, it is important to have your doctor examine him to rule out any underlying condition and discuss what to do to prevent a recurrence.
Some children run a fever after a day at an amusement park. Others develop a fever only in response to a serious illness. Your observation of your child's overall condition is the best indicator of its severity. If you are uneasy about your child's condition, call your health care provider for advice.