Pointers for parents
Body temperature does vary with age, general health, physical activity, the time of day and thickness of clothing. Everyone's temperature tends to be lower early in the morning and higher between late afternoon and early evening. With strenuous exercise, body temperature will also be slightly higher.
How do I check body temperature?
Normal temperature is not a specific number but a range from 36.1º C to 38º C. In children, a fever is not a huge concern unless the temperature exceeds 38º C. Although you can tell if your child is warmer than usual by feeling the forehead, only a thermometer can tell you how high your child’s temperature is.
Depending on your child’s age, you can use a digital thermometer to take a rectal (in the bottom), oral (in the mouth) or axillary (under the armpit) temperature. Tympanic (ear) thermometers are only suitable for older children, and should be placed correctly to prevent false readings. Mercury thermometers should be avoided to prevent accidental exposure to the toxin.
While it is natural for you to be anxious when your child is having a fever, it is important to remember that fever is only a symptom and not a sickness. It is a way the body fights infection, and your child’s temperature will return to normal once the infection is cleared.
- Fever is a common sign of infection
- Viral infections are far more common than bacterial infections, and can last up to a week. Antibiotics do not cure viral infections
- A fever does not necessarily mean that your child has a serious illness
- Fever itself is not harmful, except when it reaches 42ºC
How can I make my child more comfortable?
You can make your child feel more comfortable by giving him or her paracetamol and clear fluids often so that your child stays hydrated. Your child should rest in a cool environment and wear thin clothing; but wear enough to prevent shivering.
Tepid sponging – especially on the forehead, neck, armpits and groin – usually helps to bring down the fever if temperature exceeds 39.5ºC. Strenuous activities should be avoided until your child has recovered. You should watch your child for any signs that his or her illness is getting worse.
When do I need to bring my child to see a doctor?
- Your child is less than three months old and has a fever
- The fever is persistently high after three to four days
- The fever persists for another three days after your child started on antibiotics for bacterial infections
- Your child looks more sick than before or has not improved in 48 hours
- Your child also has the following symptoms:
o Poor feeding, with or without persistent vomiting
o Low urine output – wets the diapers less than five times a day
o Looks pale or blue
o Breathing difficulty
o Drowsiness or irritability
o Headache, stiff neck or light hurting their eyes
o Pain e.g. abdominal pain