Comforting a Fever
Even though a high temperature does not directly harm the body, it is nevertheless very uncomfortable for a child to have a fever. In addition, a prolonged fever can cause a child to become dehydrated and raise his or her metabolic needs, both of which can further weaken a sick child. You can still do a great deal to make your child more comfortable when he develops a fever.
Good Hydration Makes Sense
Drinking plenty of cool fluids is always a good idea for a child who has a fever. This is one of those pieces of ancient wisdom that has clear merits. When the body temperature rises, breathing becomes more rapid, and the skin gets flushed. Both of these reactions to fever hasten the rate at which the body loses water. More of the body's water is lost as vapor through breathing, and more moisture dissipates from the skin when the temperature is higher.
Many children lose interest in drinking and eating while they run a fever, but it is important to constantly remind them to take in additional fluids to prevent dehydration. In addition, the child will feel better when he is well hydrated. It may be difficult to convince a sick child to drink water constantly, but it's well worth the effort.
Sugary drinks and Popsicles are not as good as pure water when it comes to keeping your child hydrated, but if they are the only things your child will take, they can be used as a last resort.
Other Cooling Measures
Besides drinking, additional cooling measures can be safely applied to the feverish child. A wet towel can be used to cool her off. Soak the towel with room-temperature water (not ice-cold water), and drape it over your child's shoulders. This not only brings her temperature down slightly, it can also make her feel a lot better. Applying a cool wet towel to your child's forehead also helps to lower her temperature, but draping the towel over her shoulders is generally more effective because it covers a larger body surface area for faster cooling.
Some parents advocate cooling the child's skin with cloths soaked with rubbing alcohol. This is a dangerous recommendation, as the skin can absorb some of the alcohol and cause serious intoxication or neurological problems. This practice is even more dangerous for young infants, as their skin absorbs chemicals faster than the skin of older children and adults. This practice should always be avoided.
Using ice-cold water is not recommended because it simply causes too much discomfort to the child. In addition, if the cold water causes the child to shiver, it can actually elevate a body temperature that is already high. Shivering causes the muscles to contract, and these frequent involuntary contractions can raise the body temperature even more. Imagine someone dumping ice water on you when you're already shivering — it's extremely unpleasant.
Using Fever Reducers
Fever reducers are very useful medications in lowering the body temperature and making your child feel better. The most common fever-reducing agents for children are acetaminophen (commonly known as Tylenol) and ibuprofen (commonly known as Motrin or Advil). These medications work in different ways to lower body temperature. The effect of acetaminophen lasts for three to four hours, and the effect of ibuprofen lasts longer, generally five to six hours.
Some parents believe that if their child's temperature does not go down to normal after a fever reducer is given, whatever is causing the fever must be very serious. This is definitely untrue. Fever reducers do not reset the body temperature to normal. They only lower the temperature by a few degrees for a few hours.
A common misconception about fever reducers is that they make the fever go away. These medications, including acetaminophen and ibuprofen, do not work this way. Fever reducers simply lower the body temperature by a few degrees for a few hours. They do not necessarily return the body temperature to a normal level. They also cause parents to have unrealistic expectations, which can add to a parent's frustration and anxiety.
If your child's temperature does not decrease significantly with the fever reducer, it does not mean that she is more likely to have a bacterial than a viral infection. In addition, it does not mean that the cause of the fever is more critical either.
It is commonly believed that since these medications are sold over the counter, they must be extraordinarily safe. But this is not entirely true. Even though they are harmless when taken at the recommended dose, administration of a higher dose or with greater frequency than instructed on the label can be detrimental to anyone's health. Many parents give repeated doses to their children because the initial dose fails to lower the fever back to normal, and some of them unintentionally overdose their children with Tylenol or Motrin.
Tylenol must not be given more often than every four hours, and Motrin must not be given more often than every six hours. It is essential not to confuse these instructions, which are clearly labeled on any medication bottle sold over the counter. In addition, consider the weight of your child when administering these medications. It is a more accurate way to calculate the dosage than by age alone. Simply follow the weight-based dosing table included with any fever reducer sold over the counter.
Even though most parents already know that aspirin should not be given to children, it needs to be reiterated here. One of the most unfortunate misnomers ever given to a medication is “baby aspirin.” The descriptor “baby” is used to refer to the small dose of the medication, not that this medication is meant for babies.
Tylenol overdose is not a benign condition. In fact, if it is not treated promptly, it leads to irreversible liver damage, which can be fatal and cause the need for a liver transplant. Unfortunately, most of the general public is not aware of the danger of Tylenol overdose. Excessive dosing of Tylenol is almost a daily occurrence during the flu season.
In addition, don't keep your child on fever reducers for more than four days without first seeking medical advice from a physician. If a fever lasts for more than four days, a serious underlying condition might be causing it. If you continue to lower the temperature after a few days, you are just masking whatever it is that might be triggering the fever. This could delay treatments. Bring your child to the doctor if the fever persists for more than four days.