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Infant Fever

Lynsey Keep, RN
medicine

Infants are susceptible to common illnesses particularly in the first year of life as the immune system develops, and in that time problems such as infant fever, coughs, colds and tummy bugs are to be expected. The most important thing is to know how to recognize and better still how to treat these illnesses.

Body Temperature

The 'normal' body temperature of an infant is between 36 and 37 degrees Celsius. However, body temperature tends to rise at night; therefore, a fever would not be recognized until the body temperature rose above 37.3 degrees. It is recommended that all parents of infants and young children have a thermometer on hand in the event that the child becomes unwell. Digital thermometers are the most reliable and are commonly used in health centers and hospitals as they provide an accurate reading which is obtained quickly and without any undue distress to the child.

When an infant becomes unwell with a cough or cold, in particular there may be a problem of an associated fever which is the main reason the infant may feel particularly unwell. Innocent ailments such as coughs and colds can pass within a few days. However even though a fever can last only an hour or two, it can be potentially dangerous to a small child if not treated.

Infant Fever: Knowing When to Act

Infant fever can occur at a moment's notice. Fortunately signs of this are relatively obvious, and an infant will react in such a way that displays a change in behavior obvious to parents. Signs of this can include:

  • Prolonged irritability
  • Crying
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty in settling/sleeping
  • Feeling physically hot to touch
  • High color to the skins appearance
  • Vomiting
  • Shivering

Although many of these symptoms can be displayed when fever is not present, if an infant displays one of more then it should indeed prompt parents to first check the temperature of the infant as this will give an indication as to whether there should be cause for concern and subsequent treatment. Knowing when to act is important. If symptoms and temperature readings suggest a fever is present, then action should be taken immediately.

How to Treat Fever

Low grade infant fever, where there are no obvious symptoms, requires nothing more than an increase in fluids to keep the infant hydrated and a decrease in layers of clothing. The infant's temperature will naturally normalize over a couple of hours. If the infant appears distressed with no sign of improvement then it is sensible to give a maintenance dose of either acetominophen or ibuprofen as both are recommended for the treatment of fever. This treatment will not only reduce the body temperature, but it will also alleviate the infant of any associated pain particularly in the case or ear infections. In cases of suspected ear, urinary or respiratory infection, it is important to visit a pediatrician as antibiotic therapy may also be required.

In cases of severe fever, an infant can be at risk of having a seizure. In such cases on identifying a temperature which is making the infant extremely sick as well as administering medicine to reduce the temperature, placing the infant in a cool bath will also bring the temperature down quickly. If a seizure actually does occur, then it is essential to call 911 for emergency help. In the event of a seizure, never leave an infant unattended as he or she may vomit or experience respiratory difficulty.

Be Aware

Fevers in infants can occur in many different ways with varying degrees of severity. The most important thing is to be vigilant about the risks and causes and most importantly react accordingly when a fever occurs. Always keep a stock of medication at home as the earlier treatment is given the quicker the fever will go away. Fortunately all drug stores sell medicine to treat fever and pain over the counter; therefore, a prescription is not required.

If you suspect that overnight the infant may develop a fever which makes him unwell, give him a dose of medicine just to be on the safe side. Providing medication is given as advised on the label, then it is better to be cautious early on than to treat a fever at a time when the child has become acutely unwell.

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Infant Fever