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QA1: What temperature is too high and when should I take my child to the emergency room for a fever?

This is a question that we are asked commonly in the office and over the phone.  It is the million dollar question in pediatrics.  Let me start by saying, that in a child under 3 months of age, any temperature equal to or greater than 100.4 needs prompt medical attention.  This is because young infants are at greater risk than other children of having a serious bacterial infection when they have a fever.  Aside from that special circumstance, pediatricians view a fever no differently than we view a cough, ear pain, or vomiting.  A fever is not dangerous to your child.  A high fever is like a bad cough, it is a sign that your child is sick and his body is trying to fight an infection.  If your child has a high fever, but is not having any trouble breathing, is not vomiting excessively, and is interacting with you, then you can give him some tylenol or motrin to see if his fever lowers and his spirits improve.  If your child has a fever (of any degree) and is having trouble breathing, vomiting excessively, or is lethargic and not responding to you then you should seek medical care.  Try to view fever in the context of the whole child.  If you are having trouble doing that, call our office for more advice.  Lastly, if you are in the office with your sick child, ask the provider what to expect in the next few days, and what you should do if your child has a fever or other symptoms that worry you. – Jason Reynolds, MD/PhD


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