Having a fever is probably the most common health complaint in children. A fever can be caused by benign conditions like a simple cold or even teething, but in some cases, a fever can cause deadly complications.
A child’s body, especially their nervous system, cannot withstand high temperatures for long. And as a result, an untreated fever may lead to irreversible brain damage. Additionally, a fever can be a symptom of serious conditions like meningitis, cancers, or malformations. Hence the importance of urgent medical care every time a child has a fever.
To make sure that your child remains healthy and doesn’t suffer from any of the life-threatening complications of untreated fevers, book your appointment with the physicians of Pediatrics of Sugarland today!
Childhood Fever Q&A
What is a fever?
Fever refers to an internal body temperature that’s higher than normal. By definition, a fever is an oral temperature higher than 100°F (37.8°C), a rectal temperature higher than 100.4°F (38°C) or an axillary temperature higher than 99°F (37.2°C).
Running a fever is the body’s way of reacting to various aggressions, most commonly to bacterial and viral infections. A fever is not to be mistaken with hyperthermia, which is an abnormally high body temperature caused by external factors, usually the result of overdressing the child.
What are the causes of a fever?
Depending on its severity and duration, a fever can have a lot of causes. The most common cause of an acute fever in children is an infection. Since the immune systems of children are still developing, they are more prone to suffering from viral or bacterial infections than adults.
The most common infections in children include those of the urinary tract, the digestive system, the middle ear as well as meningitis, tonsillitis, and the flu, to name a few. Other causes of acute fevers include teething and immunizations.
If the fever is prolonged or reoccurring, more serious conditions may be to blame. Sadly, it could be a sign of immune deficiency disorders, autoimmune diseases or even, some cancers.
What symptoms can be associated with a fever?
Some symptoms can help the doctor identify the underlying cause of the fever.
For example, a fever accompanied by coughing or difficulty breathing is indicative of a respiratory infection. Fever in addition to difficulty swallowing and hypersalivation can be a sign of tonsillitis. Fever with foul-smelling urine can be a sign of a urinary tract infection. Fever with a rash can be indicative of a skin or a nervous system infection. Diarrhea, however, isn’t a symptom that’s specific to digestive infections, as an infection almost anywhere in the body can cause diarrhea in children.
It’s also important to search for and recognize signs of severity, which indicate that a child is not tolerating the fever well. These signs include sleepiness or loss of consciousness, generalized weakness, refusing food or breast milk, and seizures. If a child displays any of these symptoms, they need urgent medical care.
If a fever is prolonged or reoccurring, and it’s associated with a poor appetite and weight loss, it can be a sign of serious conditions and should motivate a doctor consultation as soon as possible.
What are the consequences of having a fever?
Running a fever is the body’s way of fighting aggression, which is usually a virus or a bacterial infection. However, the body was not designed to function well in high temperatures. The body’s organs and metabolism can only work optimally at 37°C or 98.6°F. And as a result, an untreated fever may cause multiple organ failures.
Another consequence of running a fever is sweating, which leads to dehydration, especially in infants and younger children who haven’t learned to recognize thirst or that aren’t able to express their need for water.
Last but not least, the most serious and feared consequence of having a fever is the neurological damage it can cause. The immature brains of young children cannot withstand high temperatures, and thus fevers can cause seizures and other neurological complications which may sadly lead to irreversible brain damage.
What to do if a child has a fever?
The first thing to do when a child has a fever is to lower his or her temperature down. This is done with the help of physical measures such as undressing the child, using ice packs, cold compresses, or cold showers.
If these physical measures fail, temperature lowering medications such as acetaminophen or paracetamol can be used. It’s imperative to remember that NSAIDs, despite their temperature lowering properties, shouldn’t be used to lower an infection-related fever, as they can cause the infection to spread further.
Making sure to hydrate the child well and increase their water intake is also important. After lowering the child’s temperature, the next step is to identify the cause of the fever.
What’s the importance of medical care for a child who has a fever?
Although it’s a common symptom, fever in children is a therapeutic and diagnostic emergency. Children cannot stand high temperatures for long, and a fever, if untreated, can cause complications such as dehydration, or irreversible brain damage.
Consulting a physician when a child has a fever is important to not only lower the body temperature but also to identify and treat the underlying cause of the fever.
Most of the time, a fever is caused by a benign infection. But other times, having a fever can be a sign that something more serious is going on. For all these reasons and more, ensuring urgent medical care for a child with a fever is a necessity.