Dr. Chris and I recently encountered a very high fever with our daughter, Harper. If you are anything like us, we had not heard of a fever ever getting that high, and after checking that the thermometer was working correctly on ourselves we started to freak! We immediately called the pediatrician and scheduled an appointment to come in right away. After the Dr. checked her out, said she was OK, ruled out strep, and deemed it just a viral infection. She told us to go home, keep giving her plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and to regulate her fever by either giving a sponge bath or using Tylenol. Unfortunately, she continued to have a very high fever, going upwards close to 107 degrees at some points for several days. Finally, her fever broke abruptly late Saturday night, and then Sunday morning Harper broke out in a rash all over her trunk. The doctor then diagnosed Harper with the common viral infection known as Roseola. Thankfully, she is now happy and healthy, and back to her normal trouble making ways.
The reason why I am writing this is to inform you that HIGH fevers do happen. They are important to you and your child’s immune system. Fevers are the body’s way of turning on your immune response. They do this by stimulating the body to produce more lymphocytes, T Cells, white blood cells, antibodies, and other immune responders to fight off the infection! A fever is classified as anything over 99.5* via the Temporal Artery Scanner or oral thermometer, and anything over 100.4* rectally. Anything above 102* or a fever lasting more than 3 days, it is recommended that you call your pediatrician. Very high temperatures are often associated with seizures. However, febrile seizures are actually very rare, they only affect 2-5% of children. They are caused by rapid increase in temperature, not by the height of the temperature. Once a child already has a high fever, a febrile seizure is unlikely with the current illness. If febrile seizures do occur, they usually last 1-3 minutes. Very rarely will they last longer than that, and typically these seizures when short do not cause brain damage. According to the NIH, “there is no evidence that they cause death, brain damage, epilepsy, a decrease in IQ, or learning problems”. Additionally, the NIH states that “Brain damage from a fever generally will not occur unless the fever is over 107.6°F (42°C).”
When are fevers dangerous? Here is a list of warning signs our doctor told us to watch out for. This is when you should immediately go to the ER.
- Lethargy – the baby should be able to hold his/herself up and respond to you.
- If you notice baby is pale or flushed, or urinating less.
- difficulty breathing
- unexplained rash – which indicates a more serious problem when coupled with a fever.
- Vomiting/Diarrhea – risk of dehydration increases with these
- Fevers of 104 and above that don’t come down to 101-102 with Tylenol, Sponge baths, etc.
- Irritability – more than just the usual fuzziness, she explained it to us as consistent crying for hours, if you find that nothing you do soothes them
- Meningitis symptoms – high fever with a stiff neck or neck pain, headaches, vomiting, or bright light hurting their eyes.
- If your infant is 6 weeks or younger, and has a fever of 101 degrees or higher, this is considered a medical emergency. Your doctor should evaluate your infant right away, either during business hours or in an emergency room after hours. Do not give any fever-reducing medications in this situation (you don’t want to hide the fever until after a doctor has evaluated your baby). Be sure to confirm any child fevers with a rectal thermometer (if available) before contacting your doctor.
- Infants age 7 weeks to three months with a fever over 101 warrant an appointment with your doctor within the next several hours. You generally don’t need to contact your doctor in the middle of the night in this situation if the office opens within the next few hours. Simply follow our recommendations on treating fever below and call your doctor in the morning. If it is the early evening you should probably page your doctor, since the office won’t be open until the following day. Be sure to confirm any fevers with a rectal thermometer (if available) before contacting your doctor.
My biggest recommendation is to always trust your gut. When in doubt, call your pediatrician. If you can’t get a hold of them go to the ER!
Here are some of the ways we used to bring her fever down:
- Sponge baths or using wash clothes with lukewarm water (not cold) on the back of her neck, wrists, elbows, knees, and groin. Never use rubbing alcohol because it can cause the temperature to drop too quickly causing it to spike again, plus it can be reabsorbed directly into the babies blood stream.
- Repeatedly giving lots of fluids to keep her hydrated.
- Homemade Vick’s on her feet (link included)
- Lavender Oil mixed with a carrier oil such as coconut or olive oil on the back of the neck.
- Dressed her in lose fitting clothing that wasn’t too heavy – one of our mistakes was to overdress Harper thinking she would have the chills, when in fact our Dr. said we would make the fever higher that way. Even with blankets, she said only put one light blanket over the top of her.
- Acetaminophen or Ibuprophen, it is not recommended that you give your child Aspirin because it has been found to make your child more susceptible to a condition known as Reyes Syndrome. Additionally, make sure to always use the measuring device given with the OTC medication being sure to give the proper dosage.