Parents Worry Too Much About Fevers in Children, Report Says

Filed under: Health

fever and infection in children

A fever may make a child uncomfortable, but it can actually help her body fight off an infection. Credit: Getty

A child's fever can be anxiety-provoking for many parents, who often have a gut reaction to do whatever they can to bring their child's temperature back to normal.

But a report published today by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says the primary goal should be to help a feverish child feel more comfortable, not to maintain a "normal" temperature.

In addition, parents should focus on a child's general well-being and activity level, look for signs of serious illness and make sure the child drinks fluids so as not to get dehydrated.

Fever is one of the most common symptoms managed by pediatricians and other health care providers, and frequently results in unscheduled doctor visits, calls for medical advice and extensive use of over-the-counter antipyretic (fever-reducing) medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, the report states.

But many parents give their child antipyretics even when there is only a slight fever or no fever at all. About half of parents consider a temperature of less than 100.4 degrees to be a fever, and 25 percent give antipyretics for a temperature of less than 100 degrees.

Eighty-five percent of parents say they will even wake a sleeping child to give him or her antipyretic medication. Additionally, as many as 50 percent of parents give their child the wrong dose of antipyretics and 15 percent give their child too large a dose.

Fever is not an illness, the authors explain; rather, it is a mechanism that helps the body fight infection. Though they may make a child uncomfortable, most fevers last only a short time and are not harmful. In fact, fever actually keeps bacteria and viruses from growing and reproducing in the body.

This burning desire to simply lower the child's body temperature during a fever results from misguided concerns on the part of parents and health care providers that high fevers, if left untreated, can cause adverse effects such as seizures, brain damage and death, the report states.

In fact, the authors say, there is no clearly established relationship between a fever and these conditions, and the report suggests physicians are feeding parents' "fever phobia," causing them to aggressively treat fever in their children.

In conclusion, the authors say physicians must help parents better understand that fever, in and of itself, is not a danger to generally healthy children and may actually be a benefit.

"Acetaminophen and ibuprofen, when used in appropriate doses, are generally regarded as safe and effective agents in most clinical situations," the authors write. "However, as with all drugs, they should be used judiciously to minimize the risk of adverse drug effects and toxicity."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.