When to Worry About a Fever

Do you starve or feed a fever? Can fever cause brain damage or seizures? Find out the truth from House Call Doctor

Rob Lamberts, MD,
January 17, 2013
Episode #022

Page 4 of 4

How Should You Treat a Fever?

When I was training to be a pediatrician, I often gave the “fever is your friend” lecture, encouraging parents to not treat their children’s fevers. Then I had children and saw just how awful they looked. It’s hard for a parent, even if he is a pediatrician, to stand by and do nothing in this circumstance.

This highlights the main reason to treat a fever, which is for comfort. People feel lousy when they have a fever, and treating it makes them feel better. Though fever does have its benefits, those benefits are not huge, so treating fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen is perfectly acceptable. There is no medical benefit to the person to treat the fever, but it is certainly OK to want to feel better.

An exception to this is the child under 4 months of age. They should be evaluated first before treating the fever.

Quick and Dirty Tips

So here are my quick and dirty tips about fever:

Tip 1: Don’t freak out – Yes, fever makes you feel lousy, but it doesn’t need to be treated. It won’t hurt you.

Tip 2: Know when to worry – Fever in children under four months of age, fever along with other serious symptoms, and fever lasting over a week are all reasons to seek medical attention.

Tip 3: Know how to take a temperature – Infants should always have temperatures taken rectally. That is really the only time when knowing the exact temperature is crucial. All others can be taken however is most convenient. Our office uses oral thermometers except on infants.

Tip 4: Report temperature properly – Don’t add or subtract degrees when you report the temperature. Just say what the temperature was and how you took it.

Tip 5: Know how to treat fever – Using acetaminophen and ibuprofen is generally safe and effective. I don’t advocate using warm baths, as they could induce shivering, which raises the temperature.

Tip 6: Trust instinct – You still can be sick without a fever. If you are worried you or your child may be seriously ill, get in to be seen immediately, even if there is no fever.

If you have questions you want answered, send them to housecalldoctor@quickanddirtytips.com. You can find me on Twitter as @housecalldoc and on Facebook under “House Call Doctor.”

Disclaimer: Let me remind you that this article is for informational purposes only. My goal is to add to your medical knowledge and translate some of the weird medical stuff you hear, so when you do go to your doctor, your visits will be more fruitful. I don’t intend to replace your doctor; he or she is the one you should always consult about your own medical condition.

Catch you next time! Stay Healthy!

Fever Child image from Shutterstock


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