Fever. Definition. Symptoms

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1 Fever Definition A fever is usually a sign that something out of the ordinary is going on in your body. For an adult, a fever may be uncomfortable, but fever usually isn t dangerous unless it reaches 103 F (39.4C) or higher. For very young children and infants, a slightly elevated temperature may indicate a serious infection. But the degree of fever doesn t necessarily indicate the seriousness of the underlying condition. A minor illness may cause a high fever, and a more serious illness may cause a low fever. Usually a fever goes away within a few days. A number of over-the-counter medications lower a fever, but sometimes it s better left untreated. Fever seems to play a key role in helping your body fight off a number of infections. Symptoms You have a fever when your temperature rises above its normal range. What s normal for you may be a little higher or lower than the average normal temperature of 98.6 F (37 C). Depending on what s causing your fever, additional fever signs and symptoms may include: Sweating Shivering Headache Muscle aches Loss of appetite Dehydration General Weakness

2 High fevers between 103 F (39.4 C) and 106 F (41.1 C) may cause: Hallucinations Confusion Irritability Convulsions Dehydration When to see a doctor Fevers by themselves may not be a cause for alarm or a reason to call a doctor. Yet there are some circumstances when you should seek medical advice for your baby, your child or yourself. Taking a temperature To check your or your child s temperature, you can choose from several types of thermometers, including oral, rectal, and ear (tympanic) thermometers. Although it s not the most accurate way to take a temperature, you can use an oral thermometer for an armpit (axillary) reading: Place the thermometer in the armpit and cross your arms or your child s arms over the chest. Wait four to five minutes. The axillary temperature is slightly lower than an oral temperature. If you call your doctor, report the actual number on the thermometer and where on the body you took the temperature. Use a rectal thermometer for infants: Infants Place a dab of petroleum jelly on the bulb. Lay your baby on his or her tummy. Carefully insert the bulb one-half inch to one inch into your baby s rectum. Hold the bulb and your baby still for three minutes. Don t let go of the thermometer while it s inside your baby. If your baby squirms, the thermometer could go deeper and cause an injury. An unexplained fever is greater cause for concern in infants and in children than in adults. Call us if your baby has a fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or higher that has not responded to fever medications or home remedies. Also call us if your baby: Has a fever and is younger than 3 months of age. Refuses to eat or drink.

3 Children Has a fever and unexplained irritability, such as marked crying during a diaper change or when moved. Has difficulty breathing or labored breathing. Has a fever and seems lethargic and unresponsive. In infants and children younger than age 2, these may be signs of meningitis an infection and inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. If you re worried that your baby might have meningitis, take your baby to the doctor right away. Is a newborn and has a lower than normal temperature less than 97 F (36.1 C). Very young babies may not regulate their body temperature well when they are ill and may become cold rather than hot. There s probably no cause for alarm if your child has a fever but is responsive making eye contact with you and responding to your facial expressions and to your voice and is drinking fluids and playing. Call your child s doctor if your child: Causes Has difficulty breathing or labored breathing. Is listless or irritable, vomits repeatedly, has a severe headache or stomach ache, or has any other symptoms causing significant discomfort. Has developed an unusual rash. Has a fever after being in a hot car. Seek medical care immediately. Has a fever that persists longer than a day (in children younger than age 2) or longer than three days (in children ages 2 and older). Your normal body temperature varies throughout the day it s lower in the morning and higher in the late afternoon and evening. In fact, your normal temperature can range from about 97 F (36.1 C) to 99 F (37.2 C). Although most people consider 98.3 F (37 C) normal, your temperature may vary by a degree or more. Other factors, such as your menstrual cycle or heavy exercise, can affect your temperature. A fever might be caused by: A virus A bacterial infection Heat exhaustion Extreme sunburn Some immunizations, such as the diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP) or pneumococcal vaccines (PCV).

4 Sometimes it s not possible to identify the cause of a fever. If you have a temperature of 101 F (38.3 C) or higher for more than three weeks and your doctor isn t able to find the cause after extensive evaluation, the diagnosis may be fever of unknown origin. Complication Complications of a fever may include: Severe dehydration Hallucinations Fever-induced seizure (febrile seizure), in a small number of children ages 6 months to 5 years Febrile Seizures Febrile seizures usually involve loss of consciousness and shaking of limbs on both sides of the body. Although alarming for parents, the vast majority of febrile seizures cause no lasting side effects. If a seizure occurs: Lay your child on his or her side or stomach on the floor or ground Remove any sharp objects that are near your child Loosen tight clothing Hold your child to prevent injury Don t place anything in your child s mouth or try to stop the seizure Most seizures stop on their own. Take your child to the doctor as soon as possible after the seizure to determine the cause of the fever. Call for emergency medical assistance if a seizure lasts longer than 10 minutes. Treatments and drugs With low-grade fever, doctors don t always recommend trying to lower the body temperature. Doing so may prolong the illness or mask symptoms and make it harder to determine the cause. Some experts believe that aggressively treating a fever interferes with the body s immune response. Viruses that cause colds and other respiratory infections thrive at normal body temperature. By producing a low-grade fever, your body may be helping to eliminate a virus. Over-the-counter medications In the case of a high fever, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter medication, such as:

5 Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprophen (Advil, Motrin, others). Use these medications according to the label instructions or as recommended by your doctor (See Tylenol/Motrin dosing charts). Be careful to avoid taking too much. High doses of long-term use of acetaminophen may cause liver or kidney damage, and acute overdoses can be fatal. If your child s fever remains high after a dose, don t give more medication; call your doctor instead. Lifestyle and home remedies You can try a number of things to make yourself or your child more comfortable during a fever: Prevention Drink plenty of fluids. Fever can cause fluid loss and dehydration, so drink water, juices or broth. For a child under the age 1, use an oral rehydration solution such as Pedialyte. These solutions contain water and salts proportioned to replenish fluids and electrolytes. Pedialyte ice pops also are available. Rest. It s necessary for recovery, and activity can raise your body temperature. Stay cool. Dress in light clothing, keep the room temperature cool and sleep with only a sheet or light blanket. Soak in lukewarm water. Especially for high temperatures, a lukewarm 5- to- 10 minute soak or a sponge bath can be cooling. If the bath causes shivering, stop the bath and dry off. Shivering raises the body s internal temperature shaking muscles generate heat. The best way to prevent fevers is to reduce your exposure to infectious diseases. One of the most effective ways to do that is also one of the simplest frequent hand-washing. Teach your children to wash their hands often, especially before they eat, after using the toilet, after spending time in a crowd or around someone who s sick, and after petting animals. Show them how to wash their hands vigorously, covering both the front and back of each hand with soap, and rinsing thoroughly under running water. Carry moist towelettes or hand sanitizer with you for times when you don t have access to soap and water. When possible, teach your kids not to touch their noses, mouths or eyes the main way viral infections are transmitted. In addition, teach your children to turn away from others and to cover their mouths when coughing and their noses when sneezing (cough into your elbow).

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