by Dr. Katy Patrick

By definition, fever is an abnormal elevation of body temperature that is part of a specific biologic response. That being said, fever should be thought of as a symptom of illness, not as a disease itself.

We consider the body’s normal temperature to be 98.6 F (although it is slightly higher in infants and young children). Body temperature can vary with time of day and a person’s activity, but will usually fluctuate around this average. Pediatricians consider “fever” to be defined as a temperature greater than 100.4 or higher in infants and young children, and 100 or higher for older children and adults. Rectal temperatures are the most accurate in babies and toddlers while parents of older children can use an oral or underarm thermometer. Don’t automatically add a degree when reporting a non-rectal temperature reading–just tell your doctor what the measurement was and how you took it. (If daycare is reporting a fever to you, make sure you clarify this with them as well.)

Fever can cause a lot of concern for parents, but a typical fever itself is not harmful (other than making children feel uncomfortable). Remember that fever is a symptom and is usually a sign that your child’s body is fighting off an illness. So pay attention to any other symptoms that your child might be experiencing. These may provide clues about the reason for your child’s fever.

Parents often wonder when they should bring their child with fever to the doctor. Very young infants or those with underlying health problems should usually be checked right away. Older infants and children can often be treated with fever-reducers like Tylenol or Motrin and observed at home. If your child’s fever is high, if she or he has other symptoms, or if the fever is lasting beyond 48 hours, call the clinic to discuss, and a nurse will advise you.