Posted by Hilary Parker on June 3, 2011
According to a new paper published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents can actually worry less about something: Fever.
While a child’s fever is a frequent cause of parental concern (and one of the most common symptoms that pediatricians and other health care providers manage), it’s almost always a sign of a child’s body doing what it should — and not a cause for worry.
“Fever, however, is not the primary illness but is a physiologic mechanism that has beneficial effects in fighting infection,” say doctors Janice E. Sullivan and Henry C. Farrar. “There is no evidence that fever itself worsens the course of an illness or that it causes long-term neurologic complications.”
Despite this fact, many parents will give a child fever-reducing medication (or “antipyretic” for those word collectors out there) simply because they feel as though they should. I mean, how many of us can stand by as our child lies there, miserable, when we know a dose of acetaminophen could make him or her feel so much better?
Actually, Sullivan and Farrar are of like minds; they simply take a different approach. They say the goal of treating a feverish child should be to improve his or her overall comfort without necessarily focusing on making the child’s body temperature fit within a certain range.
A lukewarm bath/sponge bath or cool compress relieves many children’s feverish feeling. Of course, it’s important to fight your instinct to wrap a chilled, teeth-chattering child in warm blankets, as this actually discourages the work his or her body is doing to cool off. Instead, dress the child in loose, light clothes and provide ample fluids to drink to help ward off dehydration.
Certainly, very high fevers and ones which cause seizures (typically due to a fast-rising but not unusually high temperature) are most worrying to parents. But even these fevers are not anything to worry about except in the most extreme cases, the paper says. Sullivan and Farrar recommend that pediatricians and other health care providers spend more time and effort talking to parents to minimize their fear of fever; instead, parents should be encouraged to monitor the general well-being of their child and taught to look for actual signs of a serious illness.