Fevers are a natural response to fighting viral infection in the body. Low grade fevers can often be taken care of at home by drinking plenty of fluids, using over the counter fever reducers such as ibuprofen, and resting. However, high fevers or fevers that are paired with severe symptoms may require urgent care.
So, when should I worry about a fever? Read below to learn more about how your body fights infection and when to contact your doctor.
What Is a Fever?
A fever is a temporary rise in body temperature. It’s one part of an overall response from the body’s immune system. A fever is usually caused by an infection.
For most children and adults, a fever may be uncomfortable. But it usually isn’t a cause for concern. For infants, however, even a low fever may mean there’s a serious infection.
Fevers generally go away within a few days. A number of over-the-counter medications lower a fever. But you don’t necessarily need to treat a fever if it’s not causing discomfort.
Symptoms of Fever
Body temperatures vary slightly from person to person and at different times of day. The average temperature has traditionally been defined as 98.6 F (37 C). A temperature taken using a mouth thermometer (oral temperature) that’s 100 F (37.8 C) or higher is generally considered to be a fever.
Depending on what’s causing a fever, other fever signs and symptoms may include:
- Chills and shivering
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- General weakness
Taking a temperature
To take a temperature, you can choose from several types of thermometers, including oral, rectal, ear (tympanic) and forehead (temporal artery) thermometers.
Oral and rectal thermometers generally provide the most accurate measurement of core body temperature. Ear or forehead thermometers, although convenient, provide less accurate temperature measurements.
In infants, a rectal temperature, if doable, is somewhat more accurate. When reporting a temperature to your health care provider, give both the reading and the type of thermometer used.
The average normal oral temperature is 98.6°F (37°C).
- A rectal temperature is 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) higher than an oral temperature.
- An ear temperature is 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) higher than an oral temperature.
- An armpit temperature is most often 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) lower than an oral temperature.
- A forehead scanner is most often 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) lower than an oral temperature.
Anything over the average normal temperature is considered a fever.
Infants and toddlers
A fever is a particular cause for concern in infants and toddlers. Call your baby’s health care provider if your child is:
- Younger than 3 months old and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher.
- Between 3 and 6 months old and has a rectal temperature higher than 102 F (38.9 C) or has a lower temperature but seems unusually irritable, sluggish or uncomfortable.
- Between 7 and 24 months old and has a rectal temperature higher than 102 F (38.9 C) that lasts longer than one day but shows no other symptoms. If your child also has other signs and symptoms, such as a runny nose, cough or diarrhea, you can call sooner.
There’s probably no cause for alarm if your child has a fever but is responsive. This means your child makes eye contact with you and responds to your facial expressions and to your voice. Your child may also be drinking fluids and playing.
Call your child’s health care provider if your child:
- Is listless, confused or has poor eye contact with you.
- Is irritable, vomits repeatedly, has a severe headache, sore throat, stomachache or other symptoms causing a lot of discomfort.
- Has a fever after being left in a hot car. Seek medical care immediately.
- Has a fever that lasts longer than three days.
- Has a seizure associated with the fever. Call 911 if the seizure lasts more than five minutes or your child doesn’t recover quickly.
Ask your child’s health care provider for guidance in special circumstances, such as a child with immune system problems or with a preexisting illness.
Call your health care provider if your temperature is 103 F (39.4 C) or higher. Seek immediate medical attention if any of these signs or symptoms accompanies a fever:
- Severe headache
- Unusual sensitivity to bright light
- Stiff neck and pain when you bend your head forward
- Mental confusion, strange behavior or altered speech
- Persistent vomiting
- Difficulty breathing or chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Pain when urinating
- Convulsions or seizures
Supreme Medical Center in Houston
When it comes to getting better fast, the best thing you can do is schedule an appointment with your physician at the first sign of illness. At Supreme Medical Center our doctors work with you to treat your symptoms and get you back to feeling like yourself in no time.