Nearly all of us have had a fever at some point in our lives, and chances are, more than once too. And many of us who are now parents have probably spent a few anxious nights cradling our children when they are suffering from a fever, worrying about the underlying causes. As such, fever is one of the most common reasons that parents seek medical care for their children.
What is a fever?
A fever occurs when our normal body temperature is raised and is normally caused when the body is exposed to infectious organisms such as bacteria or viruses.
So first things first, once we or our children start suffering from a fever (and before there is any measurable increase in body temperature) we try to conserve heat by constricting our blood vessels in the skin in order to decrease the supply of warm blood to our extremities to conserve heat – in other words, we feel cold even if our temperature hasn’t changed.
After a time, body temperature will start to rise and how high depends on largely genetic and the type of infection. It is only when an illness resolves itself or medication lowers the temperature that our children enter the flush phase – where blood vessels in the skin open up and blood flows to the surface.
So why the worry?
As our survey revealed(1), many parents worry that fever is an illness that can cause a whole range of problems, from continued discomfort to death! In fact, fever nearly always plays an important part in helping to fight off infections and to treat it too early can actually prolong an illness. Even doctors sometimes suffer from fever phobia.
This can present a problem in that a lot of parents give their children paracetamol or ibuprofen too frequently, believing that they need to lower their child’s temperature to speed up their recovery.
So what should you do?
Make sure you invest in a good thermometer, one that you know is reliable and will help you measure correctly. Braun have launched the ThermoScan® 7 Ear Thermometer with Age Precision® and the No touch + forehead thermometer, both with clinically proven accuracy. It’s also a great idea to practice using the thermometer on your child before they are ill, so they can get used to how it feels.
Try to limit the medication – such as paracetamol and ibuprofen – that you give your little one. Often, fever is beneficial as some bacteria and viruses grow poorly when exposed to higher temperatures. If you lower a temperature too early, it can actually lengthen your child’s illness as it stops the body naturally fighting the infection. But it’s also important to note that if your child is in discomfort and suffering from a high temperature over 38.5oC then you should give medication to try and bring their temperature down to bring comfort to them(2).
Last but not least, assess what other symptoms your child has. If they are unusually irritable, unresponsive, weak, vomiting, suffering from diarrhea, have a loss of appetite or there are changes in their activity then you should contact your doctor regardless of whether their temperature is normal, elevated or high.
(1) We surveyed 1021 UK parents on the topic of fever phobia, May 2015. Research conducted by Research Now.
(2) 92% of doctors recommend lowering a child’s temperature through medication between 38-40°C. Physicians’, nurses’, and parents’ attitudes to and knowledge about fever in early childhood. M Sarrel, H A Cohen, E Kahan. Patient Education and Counseling 46 (2002) 61-65