Treating a Child with a Fever: What to Tell the Parents

A parent comes to your pharmacy to pick up an OTC medication to combat a child’s fever. The parent naturally has a number of questions relating to the causes and treatment. What should you tell the parent about the symptoms of a fever and how to treat it?

A fever is the result of an infection of some type, and there is a wide variety of infections that the body can fall prey to. Advise the parent that, if the following is occurring with his or her child, it’s time to take the child to the doctor: 

•The child is younger than 3 months of age and has a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or higher measured rectally.

•The child is between the ages of 3 to 12 months and has a temperature of 102.2 degrees F or higher.

•The child is one year or older and has a temperature of 105 degrees F or higher. 

•A child under 2 years old has a fever for more than 24 hours. 

•A child older than 2 years has a fever for more than 48 hours. 

•There are other symptoms in addition to the fever. 

•The fever comes and goes for seven days or more.

•There is a history of serious illness.

•The child has recently been immunized. 

•There is a rash.

•The child has pain when urinating. 

Situations that are serious and warrant a 911 call for emergency treatment include incessant crying; confusion; inability to walk; trouble breathing; blue lips, tongue, or nails; stiff neck; inability to wake up; a refusal to move an arm or leg; and/or seizures. 

If none of the symptoms listed above are present, the parent can probably treat the child at home with a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but not aspirin. Manufacturers of acetaminophen and ibuprofen both make pediatric versions of their products. However, tell the parent that he or she should not use acetaminophen if the child is younger than 2 years of age, and the parent should not use ibuprofen if the baby is younger than six months of age. 

Encourage your patients to read the labels to determine the proper dosage for the age and weight of the child. Advise them to be sure to also read the warnings that apply to these products. If any of these warnings apply to the child, tell the parent to consult with a doctor or you – a pharmacist – before giving the medication. 

Assure the parent that most mild fevers are really no call for alarm. They are no health threat. Fevers are the body’s way of fighting off infection. The organisms causing the infection are not able to function as well when the body’s temperature is elevated. 

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