Children quickly get a fever. Why is that? And when is it advisable to do something about the fever – and how do you best lower the fever? Read everything you need to know.
Fever in children is not uncommon. In fact, it is much more common than in adolescents or adults. The body of infants, toddlers and children in the primary shoulder reacts quickly to a wide range of stresses with an increased body temperature. It doesn’t always have to be an infection or illness. Sometimes physical exhaustion or exciting experiences are enough to cause a fever. The good news: fever in children often passes as quickly as it has come.
Fever is an innate protective mechanism. With an increased body temperature, the immune system works at full speed. At the same time, living conditions for pathogens such as viruses or bacteria deteriorate. Basically, fever is usually not a cause for concern, but only a measurable symptom that the body’s self-healing powers are active.
Fever in children: when does it become dangerous?
Children’s body temperature fluctuates significantly more than that of adults. If they romp around extensively, the body temperature can rise to more than 38 degrees without being sick. As with adolescents or adults, the body temperature in the evening for most children is also about 0.5 degrees higher than in the morning.
Is it a fever or not?
Doctors sort the body temperature like this:
- Normal body temperature: 36.5 to 37.5 degrees.
- Elevated temperature: 37.6 to 38.5 degrees
- Fever: 38.6 to 39 degrees
- High fever: 39 to 41.5 degrees
- Lethal fever: over 41.5 degrees.
In some sources, other temperature windows are mentioned. Then fever starts at 38 degrees. In view of the measurement inaccuracies, these differences are not significant.
Reddened skin, pale skin, dull or feverish-shiny eyes, tiredness and a bad mood: the symptoms of children with fever are usually visible at first glance. In contrast to the face, the skin of children with fever on the body is often strikingly white and cool. Many children with fever also have no appetite. In many cases, these fever symptoms disappear within 24 hours.
Complications in children with fever are comparatively rare. However, you should go to the pediatrician if:
- The cause of the fever is not evidently harmless or you feel insecure
- Fever in infants before the 3rd month of life
- Fever over 39 degrees
- Fever lasting more than 3 days
- Fever that does not subside despite antipyretic measures
- Signs of dehydration, pain, unusual fatigue or poor drinking
- for chronic diseases such as immune deficiency, congenital heart defects or cancer
- extreme listlessness and dizziness.
About 3 to 4 percent get a febrile seizure during a febrile episode. Around a quarter of these children experience febrile seizures repeatedly.
The symptoms of febrile seizures are usually very threatening for parents. The fever quickly rises to levels above 39 degrees and then often drops just as quickly. This sometimes leads to seizures lasting several minutes. The children stretch the upper body, arms and legs twitch due to muscle cramps. Sometimes the children are unresponsive to febrile seizures, stop breathing for a short time, turn blue in the face or even lose consciousness.
The good news: febrile seizures appear very dangerous. In fact, most children cope with febrile seizures very well. If a new febrile seizure lasts longer than 3 to 5 minutes, call an ambulance to be on the safe side.
With known febrile seizures and corresponding medication at home, a febrile seizure should be broken or ended after 10 to a maximum of 15 minutes.
If you have a febrile seizure, it is best to lay the child on one side. This ensures that the airways are not blocked by saliva or vomit. Do not leave the child unobserved. If a child has a febrile seizure for the first time, you should go to the doctor with the child after the febrile seizure.
With recurrent febrile seizures, drug prevention is possible for many children (but not all).
Fever is a protective mechanism of the body. The increased body temperature facilitates the work of the immune system, whose immune cells work particularly effectively at values of 39 to 41 degrees.
Children often have a fever because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. This brings with it one or two incorrect reports. In addition, the immune system is activated particularly frequently because the child’s organism has to get used to any external pathogen or stimulus.
Over time, however, the child’s immune system learns. This is why older children or adolescents are less likely to have a fever than infants, toddlers and primary school children.
Infections as a cause of fever in children
Fever in children is almost always triggered by stressful, but comparatively harmless, infections. Above all, these are:
- Viral upper respiratory tract infections like colds , flu or bronchitis
- Gastrointestinal flu , for example from rotaviruses or noroviruses
- Classic childhood diseases such as measles , mumps , scarlet fever , rubella or chickenpox
- Bacterial infections, especially acute otitis media .
Rare causes of fever in children are:
- Temporary vaccination reactions
- Serious infectious diseases such as meningitis (meningitis), pneumonia (pneumonia) or blood poisoning (sepsis)
- Appendicitis (appendicitis)
- Congenital diseases such as disorders of the immune system or metabolism (immunoglobulin deficiency, diabetes, HIV)
- Rheumatic diseases (juvenile arthritis, Still syndrome).
Non-infectious causes of fever in children
Fever in children does not necessarily have to be caused by infections. Examples of non-infectious causes of fever in children are:
- Lack of fluids (thirsty fever)
- Physical exertion or severe fatigue
- Strong sun exposure with sunburn, sunstroke or heat stroke
- Allergies, including medication
- Congenital heart defects or cancer .
When examining children with fever, your pediatrician will first ask you in detail about possible abnormalities in the past few days. The more information you provide, the easier it is to determine the cause. In most cases, following a physical exam, your doctor will be able to make a diagnosis. But sometimes other methods of investigation are required, such as the detection of pathogens from smears or blood samples. Imaging methods such as ultrasound, X-rays or computed tomography are rarely necessary.
Measure fever correctly
Most pediatricians recommend digital clinical thermometers. There are several reasons for this. Digital clinical thermometers measure faster, are easy to use and easier to read. Old conventional analog clinical thermometers contain mercury. It is a very toxic metal. If such mercury thermometers break or the child bites the temperature sensor, this can cause dangerous mercury poisoning. As an alternative to mercury thermometers, there are also analog clinical thermometers without the dangerous metal.
Where to measure fever?
Many parents wonder where they should measure fever. Regardless of the choice of thermometer, buttocks, mouth, ear, forehead or armpit are possible. In principle, you should measure fever in children repeatedly because the fever values fluctuate rapidly from one hour to the next.
Pediatricians for fever measurements in the buttocks with digital thermometers
Pediatricians agree: They recommend measuring fever rectally in children, i.e. in the buttocks. This measurement method provides the most accurate value of the body core temperature. You should insert the tip of the clinical thermometer approximately 2 cm deep into the anus. To make the procedure as easy as possible for the child, you can add a little petroleum jelly or another lubricant to the thermometer tip.
Measuring fever in the mouth or armpit provides comparatively uncertain results. First, the temperature in the mouth and armpit is not as close to the core body temperature as in the anus. On the other hand, for a reliable measurement result, it is necessary to measure at the same place for about 1 minute. Small children in particular rarely manage to do this if the clinical thermometer is stuck in the mouth or is trapped under the armpit.
Measure fever with an ear thermometer
In clinics or medical practices, fever is often measured on the ear or forehead. Used correctly, it is a reliable method of measuring fever. Ear fever thermometers measure the temperature on the eardrum. Forehead thermometer a few millimeters in front of the forehead. You can only get accurate readings if the thermometer is placed very precisely. Incidentally, the body temperature determined on the ear and forehead is even about 0.5 degrees below the core body temperature, as determined on the anus, even with precise measurement.
Fever in children in most cases does not require complicated treatment. In the case of fever due to the typical reasons such as colds, flu or childhood illnesses, medicinal antipyretic or home remedies for fever are sufficient.
Antipyretic drugs for children
Fiebersenkende Medikamente sollten Sie nur in Absprache mit dem Arzt anwenden. Für Kinder geeignet sind vor allem die Wirkstoffe Paracetamol und Ibuprofen. Beide Wirkstoffe sind in kindgerechten Dosierungen in der Apotheke erhältlich. Für Säuglinge und Kleinkinder empfehlen sich vor allem Zäpfchen. Säfte, Granulate, Heißgetränke oder Tabletten sind Optionen für ältere Kinder.
If you give children antipyretic medication for adults from the medicine cabinet, please follow the dosage instructions very carefully. Under no circumstances should you give children preparations containing the active ingredient acetylsalicylic acid (ASA, aspirin) or combination preparations. Acetylsalicylic acid causes the life-threatening – sometimes fatal – Reye syndrome in children. This is a severe inflammation of the liver and brain that doctors call hepatic encephalopathy.
Medicinal plants and homeopathy
Many children swear by medicinal plants or homeopathic remedies when the child has a fever. Basically there is little objection to an attempt at treatment. However, this only applies if you have the appropriate specialist knowledge. The antipyretic medicinal plant willow bark, for example, is the herbal precursor to acetylsalicylic acid and should therefore not be used in children for safety reasons. There is no scientific proof of effectiveness for homeopathic medicines.
Home remedies for fever in children
Unless your doctor has prescribed specific therapy, the following home remedies for fever in children have proven their worth many times.
Bed rest and protection
Children recover even faster than adults in their sleep. The fever is often over the next morning. Do not pack the children too warm. This could cause stressful heat build-up.
Drink a lot and cool
Children with fever lose a lot of fluid through sweating. This loss should be compensated for by drinking plenty. Lukewarm (mildly dosed) herbal teas made from elderflower, linden blossom, chamomile, anise and fennel or highly diluted fruit juice spritzers are particularly suitable. A strong meat or vegetable broth compensates for the loss of electrolytes.
Get the calf wrap right
Calf wraps are one of the oldest and most proven home remedies for fever. Always put calf wraps on both legs at the same time. Incidentally, calf wraps are not very suitable for babies and toddlers because the skin area is too small for heat exchange. Here’s how to get calf wraps right:
- You can put on calf wraps in two or three layers.
- For the inner layer, immerse a tummy wool cloth (for example a cloth diaper or a similarly light tissue) in lukewarm (not ice-cold!) Water.
- Wring out and wrap loosely around the calf.
- Now wrap the damp calf wrap with one or two other towels. If you only use a top layer, this cloth should be thick and absorbent. A bath towel, for example, is well suited.
- Change the calf wrap when it has reached this body temperature. This is usually the case after 10 to 20 minutes.
- Repeat calf wrap changes a total of 2 to 4 times.
- The maximum temperature drop should be 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Otherwise the circulation would be too stressed.
Targeted prevention of fever in children is neither possible nor desirable. Fever is a protective reaction of the body. With every infection survived, the immune system of otherwise healthy children becomes stronger. This reduces the frequency of febrile infections.