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Children's fevers not a reason to panic, pediatricians' report says

February 28, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • Fevers in children are typically not harmful and may not need treatment.
Fevers in children are typically not harmful and may not need treatment. (Steve Osman / Los Angeles…)

Fever in a child is scary for parents. It doesn't matter how high the temperature is. If it's low, you're worried it's going to rise. If it's high, you're worried about why it's so high and what you should do about it.

But parents should take a deep breath, pediatricians advised Monday. Many times, parents overreact to a child's fever, they said. A fever is one of the most common reasons that parents take their kids to the doctor, but visits may not be necessary. Nor are over-the-counter fever-reducing medications needed in all cases.

The report is a reminder that a fever plays a beneficial role in fighting infection. While feverish children younger than 3 months should be checked by a doctor -- as should children ages 4 months to 6 years with fevers above 101 degrees and children older than 6 with fevers higher than 103 -- most fevers don't hurt the child. Parents should use acetaminophen or ibuprofen (administered with a pharmacy-issued measuring device) only if the child acts sick -- he or she is achy, lethargic or chilling. For example, a kid with a fever of 99.5 who is acting fine does not need medication.

The report, published online in the journal Pediatrics, stems in part from concerns that adults misuse medications to treat pain and fever in children, said Dr. Janice E. Sullivan, the lead author of the article and a professor of pediatric critical care and clinical pharmacology at the University of Louisville.

"Parents are always concerned when their child has a fever because it's a sign they are ill," Sullivan said. "There is a misconception that fever is bad and that you need to aim for a normal temperature. But you should not try to lower the fever unless it's causing them discomfort."

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