Do I need to treat my child’s fever?

June 14, 2018

  • Recent articles in the media and on television have said that it is not always necessary to give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen if they have a fever (raised temperature).
  • Children commonly get fevers, for example when they get a cold or cough, because their body is fighting the infection.
  • If your child is distressed, you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to help them feel more comfortable.
  • You are not trying to reduce their temperature.
  • If they don’t seem bothered, then you don’t need to give them any medicine.

You only need to treat a fever if your child is miserable or distressed.

Young children often get a fever if they have a cough or cold, for example, because the body is fighting the infection. Your child may have a fever if they feel hotter than usual when you touch their forehead, back or stomach, feel sweaty or clammy, or have flushed cheeks.

You can check your child’s temperature with a thermometer. Safe and cheap digital thermometers can be bought from pharmacies, supermarkets or online retailers. For children under 5 years of age, a fever is a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or higher. However, some children may seem feverish with a lower temperature than this.

If your child has a fever but is not distressed, you do not need to give them any medicine – the fever will help the body fight the infection. However, if your child is miserable, you may want to give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to help them feel more comfortable. The aim of treatment is to help your child feel more comfortable, not to reduce the fever.

  • Paracetamol can be given to babies aged 2 months or older.
  • Ibuprofen can be given to babies aged 3 months or over if they weigh more than 5 kg (11 lbs).
  • You should use paracetamol OR ibuprofen, but do not give both at the same time.
  • If your child is still unhappy or uncomfortable after giving one of these two medicines, you can give them the other one instead.
  • If their symptoms reappear as the medicine wears off, give them another dose of the same medicine when it is due. You do not need to alternate between ibuprofen and paracetamol.
  • Check the instructions on the bottle or packet carefully. Do not give more than the dose that is recommended or more often than is recommended.

Many parents are concerned about the risk of a febrile seizure (fit), which sometimes occurs in children with a very high fever. However, studies have shown that giving your child paracetamol or ibuprofen does not reduce this risk. Remember, that paracetamol or ibuprofen are used to help your child to feel more comfortable rather than to reduce their temperature.

Advice about caring for your child

Contact your doctor if:

  • Your baby is less than 3 months old and has a fever
  • Your child seems particularly unwell or you are worried.