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Fever in Children

For children of 12 and over, see chart 4

A fever is a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above. If your child is unwell, you should take his or her temperature because a high fever may need urgent treatment. If a feverish child becomes unresponsive, call an ambulance. In all cases, follow the advice for bringing down a fever.

  • How old is your child?

    • Under 6 months
      • Possible cause Fever in young babies is unusual unless it occurs within 48 hours of immunization; it may indicate a serious illness.

        Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

    • 6 months or over

      Does your child have a rash?

      • Rash
      • No rash

        Does your child have any of the following symptoms?

        • Severe headache
          • Possible cause Meningitis (see Meningitis in children) is a possible cause of these symptoms.

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • Abnormal drowsiness, irritability, or confusion
          • Possible cause Meningitis (see Meningitis in children) is a possible cause of these symptoms.

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • Dislike of bright light
          • Possible cause Meningitis (see Meningitis in children) is a possible cause of these symptoms.

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • Neck pain on bending the head forwards
          • Possible cause Meningitis (see Meningitis in children) is a possible cause of these symptoms.

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • None of the above

          Is your child reluctant to move an arm or leg?

          • Yes
            • Possible cause Your child could have an infection in a bone or joint (see Osteomyelitis, and Septic arthritis).

              Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

          • No

            Is your child’s breathing abnormally noisy or rapid (see Checking your child’s breathing rate)?

            • Abnormally rapid
              • Possible cause Your child could have a respiratory infection, such as pneumonia.

                Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

            • Noisy
              • Possible cause This may be a severe episode of croup.

                Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

            • Neither

              Does either of the following apply?

              • Your child has been pulling at one ear
                • Possible cause Your child may have an infection of the middle ear (see Acute otitis media in children).

                  Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

              • Your child has complained of earache
                • Possible cause Your child may have an infection of the middle ear (see Acute otitis media in children).

                  Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

              • Neither

                Does your child have either of the following symptoms?

                • Cough
                  • Possible cause A viral illness, such as a severe cold (see Common cold) or influenza, is the most likely cause of your child’s symptoms.

                    Self-help See the advice for bringing down a fever. Consult your doctor if your child’s symptoms worsen, if your child is no better in 2 days, or if he or she develops other symptoms.

                • Runny nose
                  • Possible cause A viral illness, such as a severe cold (see Common cold) or influenza, is the most likely cause of your child’s symptoms.

                    Self-help See the advice for bringing down a fever. Consult your doctor if your child’s symptoms worsen, if your child is no better in 2 days, or if he or she develops other symptoms.

                • Neither

                  Does your child have a sore throat?

                  • Sore throat
                    • Possible cause Your child could be suffering from a throat infection, such as tonsillitis.

                      Self-help See the advice for bringing down a fever. If your child is no better in 24 hours or if other symptoms develop, make an appointment to see your doctor.

                  • No sore throat

                    Does your child have either of the following symptoms?

                    • Pain on passing urine
                    • Diarrhoea with or without vomiting
                      • Possible cause It is possible that your child has a digestive tract infection (see Gastroenteritis).

                        Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately if your child is under 6 months old. For older children, follow the self-help measures for vomiting and diarrhoea, and consult your doctor if your child is no better in 24 hours or if he or she develops other symptoms.

                    • Neither
                      • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your child’s fever from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance if your child’s temperature rises above 39°C (102°F) and he or she has any of the following symptoms:

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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