Fevers: How to manage a child’s high temperature

With cold and flu season here, the next time you or your children are poorly, you may be reaching for the paracetamol to reduce their fever. It’s natural to worry about your child’s high temperature and want to reduce their symptoms.

But research shows that we actually need to thank our fever for helping fight off infection. That’s because some studies have shown elevated body temperature helps certain types of white blood cells, lymphocytes, to work better. This supports our immune system to fight off the bugs that make us ill.

What causes a high temperature

Fevers are normally caused by a mild viral infection. Of course sometimes a fever reflects a dangerous infection that needs medical assessment from a health professional, but if the raise in temperature is minor you can support your child’s immune system with rest and plenty of hydration. Offer lots of breastmilk if they are breastfed.

Fevers actually help protect us.

One study showed that children who had a fever of 38.3°C before they were 12 months old were less likely to demonstrate have allergies at age 6 to 7 years. In the acute phase of an infection raising the body temperature stops the bad bugs from multiplying which may reduce the length and severity of common colds and flu.

How to help a baby with a high temperature

If you decide not to treat a fever in your little one, then do keep track of the temperature through their illness. Take their temperature regularly and record it. You can help them feel better with a plenty of cool drinks and lots of cuddles and not keeping them too hot.

When to look for help (NHS advice):

  • Check your child for signs of dehydration – these can include a dry mouth, no tears, sunken eyes and, in babies, fewer wet nappies
  • your baby is under three months old and they have a temperature of 38C (101F) or higher
  • your baby is three to six months old and has a temperature of 39C (102F) or higher
  • your child develops a red rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it
  • your child has a fit (convulsion)
  • they are crying constantly and you can’t console or distract them, or the cry doesn’t sound like their normal cry
  • has a high-pitched or unusual sound when crying
  • the fever lasts for more than five days
  • your child’s health is getting worse
  • you have any concerns about looking after your child at home

Stay well this winter!