Written by Dr. Herschel Lessin MD
The mother of my 6-year old patient explained to me that her daughter always gets high fevers, especially when she is sick. Mom says she keeps on bringing her child in to see the pediatrician, but the doctor never seems to be concerned about it. Aren’t fevers dangerous?
The short answer is that high fevers, in and of themselves, are not dangerous in normal children. The only fevers that are dangerous are those that occur with heavy exercise in hot conditions where the body’s fever control thermostat breaks down.
Fever is a symptom, not a disease. It is not the height of the fever that is of concern, but the nature of the illness causing the fever.
In the case of viral illnesses of childhood, the body will not allow a fever to get high enough to cause damage. Unfortunately, there is a “fever phobia” in America. Surveys of parents over the past 20 years have shown little change in it.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued an updated clinical report titled “Fever and Antipyretic Use in Children” The Academy says it has issued the report to help pediatricians and primary care physicians (general practitioners) educate parents and families about fever and fever phobia.
This unreasonable fear of fever stems from the basic misconception I mentioned: that fever is a disease. It is not. It is the body’s response to an infection
Like most normal bodily responses, it has a purpose. Mild to moderate fevers actually promote the body’s defense against illness. Temperatures less that 100.5 F are not fever at all, they are NORMAL. Fever’s up to 102 F rarely makes kids sick and is often beneficial.
Most Pediatricians do not consider a fever “high” until it is 104 F. or greater. Even then, the disease causing the fever may not be serious at all. A lot depends on the age and clinical appearance of the child and other symptoms that might be present.
You must assess how the child appears; how he or she is acting; do they make eye contact? Are they drinking? Are they consolable? Therefore, if your child has a fever, it is always good to call your Pediatrician for advice. It is not good to be frightened or panic and run to an emergency room, since the vast majority of fevers are caused by common viral illness.
The only exception to this advice is in the very young infant.
If your child with fever is less than 3 months of age or appears very ill, however, then an immediate call is mandatory.
Dr. Lessin has been a practicing pediatrician for 30 years. He is a founding partner and serveD as both Medical Director and Director of Clinical Research at the Children’s Medical Group.