February 4, 2024
Fever: A Quick Guide For Parents
Adapted from a post by Natasha Burgert, MD
One of the most common reasons parents are calling or coming to the office is FEVER. Fever can make a kid look and feel lousy, which is not fun for a parent to watch.
First, A Few Fever Facts
A fever is a temporary rise in body temperature due to illness. Most consider a fever to be 100.4F degrees or higher (regardless of your child’s “usual temperature”).
Fever is a symptom of illness, not a disease. With very specific exceptions, fever is a normal, healthy way for the body to fight common infections. Bacteria and viruses that attack our bodies love normal body temperature, but cannot successfully replicate in hotter conditions. Fever reflects a robust immune system’s defense against these pathogenic attackers. The bacteria and viruses are the enemy, not the fever they cause.
It’s not your imagination – Fevers are worse at night. Our body systems follow a circadian rhythm. During the day, our level of cortisol (a stress hormone) is typically higher, slightly suppressing the work of the infection-fighting cells in our blood. At night, when cortisol levels drop, the immune system ramps up. When our immune system is working harder, higher fevers and more symptoms of illness can result.
Top 10 Fever FAQs
1. What is the best way to take a child’s temperature?
For healthy babies under two months of age, it’s okay to use an armpit thermometer to quickly screen for a fever. A simple digital thermometer will work. If a baby’s armpit temp is 99F degrees or higher, then a rectal temperature must be done to confirm your baby’s temperature. (Here’s a how-to video from Mount Sinai.) If the rectal temperature is 100.4F degrees or higher, call your pediatrician immediately or go to your nearest emergency room.
- For kids over two months, an armpit thermometer remains a good option for screening. If the temperature is over 99F degrees, you can confirm a fever with a rectal or forehead (temporal artery) thermometer.
- After six months of age, ear thermometers become an option, but can have some variability in accuracy. You’ll have the best chance of getting a correct temp by gently pulling your child’s ear up and back, while aiming the tip of the ear probe between the opposite eye and ear. Check both ears, and assume the higher temperature is correct.
- Over the age of four years, an oral digital thermometer is thought to be the most accurate. Make sure your child has not consumed anything cold or hot for at least 15 minutes before taking a temperature. Ear and forehead thermometers are also great options for this age.
- In our office, we use a simple digital thermometer to get rectal temperatures on our infants and a professional grade temporal scan thermometer for older kids (for home use try the brands Braun and Exergen.)
- Warning: Forehead fever strips and pacifier thermometers are not very accurate, so save your money.
2. Is it true that the higher the fever, the more I should worry?
Although a high fever may indicate more serious illness in an adult, this is not the case for young kids. A young child’s immune system is always on high alert, and any sign of illness can result in a significant immune response.
Regardless of the actual numerical value, look for signs of serious illness in your child. Some kids appear fairly normal with really high temperatures, while others are sluggish and sad with a reasonably mild fever. Observe the amount of discomfort, level of activity and ability to maintain adequate hydration. Those symptoms are more important than the number itself.
3. When do I take my child to the doctor for a fever?
Over two months of age, most fever can be safely treated at home with fever reducing medication, hydration and patience. The fever caused by most viral illnesses of childhood are typically seen at the beginning of an illness, associated with other symptoms and last about 72 hours. But, there are few instances when pediatricians definitely want to see your child with fever.
It’s time to go to the doctor when:
- your child is less than two months old and has a fever of 100.4F or greateryour child has had a fever for five consecutive days or longer (under age 2 if 3 or more days)
- your child is also showing other signs of pain or discomfort, like pain with urination, persistent headache/neck pain, bad sore throat or ear pain (note that sore throats that accompany congestion and cough are most likely viral, not strep).
- if you are concerned about dehydration or excessive fatigue
A pediatrician’s job is to examine kids when parents are concerned. If you are worried, please portal us. We are here to help you determine when you need to bring them in.
4. What “number” on the thermometer means an ER visit?
Over the age of two months, there is no number on a thermometer that requires a trip to the emergency department. Nope, not even 105F degrees.
It’s never wrong to seek help when you’re worried about your child, but no one wants to sit in the ER needlessly for hours. If your child gets a high temp, grab the fever reducer (see FAQ #6) and try to lower the fever at home before jumping in the car.
Pediatricians are always going to be more worried about fever for multiple days in a row (more than five) than a kiddo with a brief 105F temperature. And, we are going to be more worried about a kid who is too sleepy, not drinking or in pain — no matter the number on the thermometer.
If there has been NO change in your child’s temperature after an hour of offering a weight-based dose of medication, reach out to us for advice. (*note that high fevers may not come down fully to normal range, especially at night- if a high fever comes down a few degrees, enough that your child is more comfortable and able to sleep, there is no need to worry. If, after an hour there has been no change in the temperature you can give a different fever reducer- i.e. acetaminophen if ibuprofen was given, and vice versa)
5. Isn’t it true that fever helps the body fight infection, so we shouldn’t use fever reducer?
The goal of offering fever reducing medication is NOT to get a high temperature back to “normal.” Fever reducers, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, are simply medications to make your child feel better and might decrease the risk of dehydration.
As an aside, if you are coming to the pediatrician’s office because your child has a fever and her or she is uncomfortable, please give your child a fever reducing medication BEFORE coming to the office. The doctor doesn’t have to “see the fever.” We believe you. Plus, a comfortable child is much easier to examine. And a good exam will often determine the cause of the fever, allowing for accurate treatment.
6. What’s the difference between ibuprofen and acetaminophen? Which one should I use?
Fever reducers do NOT treat infection or cure a fever. The goal of these medications is to simply make your child feel better.
Acetaminphen (Tylenol) helps with pain and fever. This medication may be given to infants over the age of two months, sooner if approved by your healthcare provider. It comes in liquid, chewable, pill and rectal versions (Feverall). Acetaminophen is effective for 4-6 hours, and should not be used more than 5 times in a 24 hour period.
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) helps pain, fever and swelling. Ibuprofen can be given to infants over the age of six months and is taken by mouth. Ibuprofen is effective for 6-8 hours.
Medications should be dosed according to your child’s weight, not age. If you feel that your child needs medication, give the correct dose. Weight based dosing charts are available on our website at www.saugatuckpeds.com. Learn more about safely using these meds in FAQ #7.
Fever reducer tips:
- It’s not uncommon during the course of an illness for the temperature to rise near the end of the dosing interval.
- These medications may take up to an hour to start working. In the meantime you can try a tepid bath/cool cloths to help (do NOT use alcohol rubs, these can be dangerous in children.)
- If your child has an upset stomach, choose acetaminophen.
- If your child has swelling, throat pain choose ibuprofen. Either medication is generally appropriate for fever and pain reduction when used in appropriate doses for acute illness. Dose fever reducers by weight, not by age.
- Please note: Aspirin is not an option for fever reduction in children. There is link between between aspirin and a condition called Reye Syndrome. Please keep aspirin away from your childhood medications. If your child is under the care of older caregivers, like grandparents, please remind them of this concern.
7. Acetaminophen can hurt the liver, so isn’t giving ibuprofen a safer choice?
Generally speaking, fever reducing medications are considered safe if administered properly (correct age, dose, dosage device, and frequency). However, when any medication is not taken properly, intentionally or unintentionally, kids can get hurt.
Tips to decrease the risk of using medications:
- Medications (which many children find delicious) need to be stored in a safe place to prevent overdosing. Avoid keeping medication out on the counter or in the bedroom during times your child is ill. Always store medication in a safe place where children can’t access.
- Use the dosage device that came with the medication. Don’t use cereal spoons or measuring spoons from the kitchen.
- Do not buy multi-symptom formulations, such as many cold and cough products. These products increase the risk of accidental overdose because parents may unintentionally give a fever reducer and a multi-symptom medication containing fever reducer, at the same time.
8. When my child gets a fever, I heard it’s best to alternate acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Is this true?
Although the results of a few studies have suggested fever reduction was slightly betterwhen using both medications, the risk of making a mistake while alternating fever reducers is higher than the increased relief your child may experience by using this method.
However, if your child’s fever is not coming down to a level of comfort with one medication alone, both may be used. If you choose to alternate, medication can be given every three hours. For example, acetaminophen at noon, ibuprofen at 3 pm, acetaminophen at 6 pm, etc. Make a chart to mark down the time each medication was given, and share it with all caregivers. Again, alternating two fever reducers is not needed for most illnesses.
9. Isn’t it true that a high fever causes brain damage?
Fever does not cause brain damage. Period. Full stop. Every normal brain has a internal thermostat that will prevent a person’s temperature from getting high enough to cause brain damage.
Organ damage can occur when an external factor is affecting our temperature regulation system. For example, when an individual is not able to cool oneself (as in a closed car on a summer day) or in the case of rare brain injury that has resulted in damage to the internal thermostat. A healthy child with fever is not at risk of organ damage.
10. What about febrile seizures? Don’t I have to treat fevers to prevent them?
Febrile seizures are scary to watch and terrifying for parents. But despite popular opinion, aggressive fever control does NOT prevent febrile seizures from occurring.
The cause of febrile seizure is thought to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and are the result of a developing brain’s reaction to fever. Fever reducing medications do not prevent febrile seizures from occurring. Rather, the risk of febrile seizures are associated with a child’s age at the first event and a history of family members who also had these events.
Simple febrile seizures most commonly happen in young children between 12-18 months of age. These events last for a few minutes, resolve on their own and rarely cause long-term health problems. Children grow out of these events as their brain matures, typically by elementary school.
If your child is having a unexplained or first-time seizure, call 911 for help.
Sickness and the Holidays
December 18, 2023
Respiratory illneses, including RSV, Influenza and COVID19 continue to spread rapidly in our area. With the holidays fast approaching, it is important to understand how to limit your family’s exposure to these illnesses as well as protect vulnerable friends, schoolmates and family members from your potentially sick child.
- Your best first line against infection is via immunization. We have influenza and COVID19 vaccines readily available in the office (influenza for all ages 6 months+, COVID19 for ages 6 mo- 18 years.)
- RSV vaccines are unfortunately in very short supply for infants under 6 months of age. However, expectant mothers can get a different vaccine that stimulates their body to create antibodies which cross the placenta and provide protection for your soon-to-be born infant.
- Masks work, especially if well-fit and filtered (an N95.) Try to mask in public for at least 4-5 days prior to events to avoid getting sick.
- Washing hands frequently with soap and water, and wiping down frequently touched areas in the house such as doorknobs and counters helps minimize in house spread of illness.
- Ventilation and filtration- planes are pretty good at this, but remember to mask up in the airport and boarding areas at minimum. If your child is too young to mask, try a stroller with a rain shield when possible until you get settled in your seat.
- COVID19 home tests can be negative early on- remember to test several times over 2-3 days if you have symptoms to increase the chances of detecting the virus (2 tests 48 hrs apart will catch 39% of asymptomatic infections and 92% of symptomatic infections. ANY line should be considered a positive (though the fainter, the less contagious you are.)
- If your child has fever, aches, chills, sore throat and cold symptoms they may have the flu- contact our office for evaluation and testing.
- RSV presents as any other common cold (congestion, sore throat, cough.) Testing is indicated only in small infants who may become unusually ill. If your older child has these symptoms, assume they have one of many respiratory viruses including RSV, and consider whether they should be around vulnerable people.
The most common questions we get are about WHEN your sick child can safely go to school/a birthday party/your family gathering. Many illnesses are contagious for a day or two PRIOR to symptom onset- hard to do anything about that (but do alert anyone who may have been exposed to your sick child unknowingly.)
Here are some general guidelines for when your child can go back in public-
- COVID19- most contagious just prior to symptom onset and in first 5 days. Day 0 is the first day of symptoms- you child needs to be home/isolated from other family members if possible for days 1-5, and can return to school MASKED on days 6-10 if they are fever free for 24 hours and feeling better. Two negative rapid covid tests 24 hrs apart indicate they are likely no longer contagious, but this is not required for return to school/activities or after 10 days (and they still should mask for days 5-10 in public.)
- Strep throat- when on antibiotics for at least 12 hours, AND fever free, feeling better and able to stay hydrated.
- RSV– typically lasts 1-2 weeks, with a peak around day 3-5 but congestion and cough can last for WEEKS. It is most contagious in the first week. If your child seems better, then has a new fever/earache/worsening cough we would want to reevaluate them. Your child can return to school when fever free for 24 hrs, able to hydrate, and generally feeling better (no hacking cough or streaming nose.) Avoid more vulnerable people for at least a week, ideally 2 weeks.
- Impetigo (scabbed/oozy/blistering skin rash from staph or strep)- can return to school/daycare when on antibiotics for 12 hours and the rash is drying up/not spreading. Cover infected areas when possible.
- Pink eye (conjunctivitis)- this is almost always viral, but many schools/daycares require (unnecessary) antibiotic eye drops to return. We generally only prescribe such drops if your child has persistent thick eye discharge. Conjunctivitis is most contagious prior to symptom onset, and is generally highly contagious (bacterial or viral). Schools usually require that any thick discharge has cleared up prior to return.
- Influenza A&B- incubation period is about 1-4 days post exposure and is typically spreads via respiratory droplets (coughs, sneezes…) Symptoms (fever, body aches, cough, congestion and sore throat) are worst in the first week, and are usually milder if your child has been immunized. Cough and fatigue can last up to 2 weeks, but your child can return to school once fever free for 24 hrs, able to stay hydrated, and their symptoms are minimal. Avoid vulnerable people for at least a week.
- The ”Stomach Flu” (not a real flu, but usually from another virus such as Norovirus)- spreads rapidly via exposure via direct contact with bodily fluids OR contact with infected surfaces (this is the time to pull out the bleach wipes!) Norovirus often begins suddenly with bad abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. While the vomiting phase is usually over within 1-3 days, the diarrhea can last for up to 2 weeks. Children can return to school/daycare when fever free for 24 hrs, they are able to stay hydrated, and can control their bowel movements (or in infants, diarrhea has slowed and is contained within a diaper.)
- Croup– caused by any number of upper respiratory viruses (usually parainfluenza) that cause throat inflammation and cough. The incubation period is generally 2-7 days post exposure, and it spreads via contact with respiratory secretions. Can return to school/daycare when fever free for 24 hrs, able to stay hydrated, and the cough/congestion is minimal (sense a trend here?)
- Hand Foot Mouth (HFM)- caused by Coxsackie virus, with an incubation period of 2-7 days. Spread by respiratory secretions and saliva/stools (wash hands well after diaper changes.) Children can return to school/daycare when fever free for 24 hrs, able to stay hydrated, and the rash is no longer spreading and lesions have scabbed.
- Poison Ivy– NOT CONTAGIOUS!!! It is spread by contact with urushiol oil from Poison Ivy leaves, and the rash doesn’t emerge for several days, long after the oil has been washed off or absorbed by the skin. Various areas of involvement emerge over several days, depending on the amount of oil absorbed by the skin. Itching won’t spread the rash, but can worsen it. Washes such as Zanfel help draw the oil out of the skin and minimize the reaction.
Flovent to be discontinued 12/31/2023
December 11, 2023
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is discontinuing production of Flovent HFA (fluticasone propionate) and Flovent Diskus. Flovent HFA and Flovent Diskus are inhaled corticosteroid medicines used as a controller medicine to treat asthma (and sometimes off-label for a gastrointestinal illness called Eosinophilic Esophagitis or EoE.)
GSK notified the FDA of this decision on June 2, 2023. The last date the product will be available for ordering is Dec. 31, 2023. GSK believes a supply of these products will be gone by early 2024.
If you use Flovent HFA or Flovent Diskus, here are some steps you can take:
- Refill your current Flovent prescription as soon as possible.
- Your child will need to switch to another medication in 2024. Some brand name options may include ArmonAir Digihaler and Arnuity Ellipta. These are dry powder inhalers approved for ages 5 and older, but cannot be used with a mask/spacer. Qvar is a breath-activated device with similar issues, but can be adapted to use with a spacer/mask with some manipulation of the device (not ideal.)
- A generic fluticasone metered dose inhaler is available. However, some insurers are not covering the generic and others don’t consider it a preferred treatment, which can lead to higher copays and the need for prior authorizations that delay access.
- Asthmanex HFA is a similar, but not identical, inhaled corticosteroid (mometasone) that may also be substituted, but needs to be covered by insurance.
Bottom line, CONTACT YOUR INSURANCE NOW to find out what they will cover in place of Flovent in 2024.
Thanksgiving Holiday Hours
November 22, 2023
Our office will be closed Thursday, November 23rd in honor of the Thanksgiving Holiday. One of our physicians will be on call for emergency sick issues. To reach our on call MD, call our office and follow the prompts.
We will reopen Friday morning for sick acute visits only until noon, We will also be in the office Saturday and Sunday morning for sick acute visits only.
To request an appointment, please log into your patient portal accountand fill out a SICK VISIT APPOINTMENT REQUEST, or call our office prior to 10 am to book a visit.
Colds and Coughs
November 13, 2023
Cold and cough season has clearly arrived! Unfortunately kids get a lot of colds, on average 8 a year. Colds can cause sore throats, congestion, sneezing, coughs and fever (usually 5 days or less.) Since each cold can last 7-10 days, and most colds are during October thru April, it may seem as if your child is sick the entire winter. This isn’t forever, as their immune systems develop memory of these germs and can fight them off more easily as they age. But the early years can be a beast!
A cough is an important defense mechanism that meant to clear the airways. Acute coughs are most often caused by an upper respiratory tract virus.
Dry coughs are usually viral, caused by inflammation of the lower airway, sometimes causing hoarseness or, in younger children, stridor (a high pitched sound on breathing in.) This is called croup, and can be caused by many different cold viruses.
The best treatment for croup is breathing in either cold outdoor air, warm, steamy mist (or a mix!) A dose of ibuprofen also helps inflamed airways, and fever that may also be present. Croup is almost always worse at night and better in the am, and may last a day or two before it comes a typical snotty cold. If your child is struggling to breathe or has persistent stridor please call us.
Dry coughs are often followed by wet/loose coughs as the respiratory tract secretes mucous to fight invaders (cold germs, pollens, other airway irritants.)
Mucous, whether from the lower respiratory tract or the nose/sinuses is usually clear in the beginning of an illness then changes color (white/yellow/green) as white cells rush in to help fight illness.
We do not worry about colored mucous unless your child has:
- Been sick for 10-14 days with worsening symptoms
- Ear or chest pain
- Difficulty breathing/wheezing
- Conjunctivitis (reddening of the eyes along with a persistent, thick colored discharge). Red eyes with a watery discharge early in illness are typically caused by a virus, and not treated with antibiotic drops.
Treatment of cough and congestion:
Remember that coughing isn’t all bad. It helps clear mucus from your airway.
Teach children to cough into their elbows. Coughing with the mouth closed also helps avoid the walls of the lower throat from rubbing together and causing more irritation.
- Water/fluids– water, juice, warm chicken soup or tea helps loosen congestion and prevent dehydration. Avoid caffeine, excess sugary beverages.
- Saline nasal drops/sprays– OTC saline nasal sprays help relieve thick congestion and stuffiness. For infants, lay baby on its back and give a good squirt of saline up each nostril- it is safe for them to swallow or inhale the liquid. You can gently suction out excess mucous with a snot-sucker (avoid frequent suctioning as it can irritate the nose.) Saline sprays can also be used in older children as often as necessary.
- OTC Astepro is a topical decongestant spray that can be safely used twice a day in older kids with heavy congestion or stuffiness- if too drying, add nasal saline and some Vaseline to the lower third of the nostrils to avoid irritation/bleeding.
- DO NOT USE over the counter nasal decongestants such as afrin or neo-synephrine more than 2-3 days, as they can cause rebound congestion when stopped.
- Honey- safe to use for coughs and sore throats in children older than one. 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) of honey has been found to be as effective as OTC cough medicine in a study of children with URIs. Best given straight up, honey coats and soothes an irritated oropharynx. Thinner agave syrups like Zarbees are not effective and should not be given to infants.
- Pectin cough pops– safe to use in children at least 3 years of age who don’t choke easily. Pectin coats the throat, and helps soreness and cough.
- Humidification– cold viruses thrive in dry conditions, and dry air also dries mucous membranes causing a stuffy nose and sore throat. Cool mist humidifiers help add moisture to the air- place it close to your child’s bed so they are effectively breathing in the mist. Be sure to clean it weekly (or more often) following the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Sitting in a steamy bathroom for a several times a day is a great way to loosen secretions and soothe irritated throats (run hot water until the mirrors are foggy then play in the room, not the hot shower, for 10-15 mins.) Avoid warm mist humidifiers as they can cause steam burns if touched.
- The Boogie Micro-Mist Saline Inhaler (https://www.boogiewipes.com/product/boogie-micro-mist-saline-inhaler/) can be used in all ages to humidify both the upper and lower respiratory tract. If you have a nebulizer, saline nebs can also help humidify airways (do not use if a child is wheezing, unless directed by the pediatrician.)
- Ibuprofen/Acetaminophen- fine to use for aches, pain, fever as needed (for children 2+ month unless otherwise directed). Dosages by weight are on our website.
- Benadryl– a first-generation (sedating) antihistamine that may provide minor relief of congestion, sneezing and watery eyes, can be used in children 2+ months unless otherwise directed. Newer antihistamines like zyrtec and allegra are good for allergy, but not for colds. Can use with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Dosing by weight for all three are available on our website.
- Delsym/Robitussin DM– a long acting cough medication (dextromethorphan) that can be used for irritative coughs not relieved by non medicated measures in children over age 4. This only suppresses the cough reflex, and does not decongest. Can use with Benadryl, acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen.Delsym dosing:
· Children 12 and older- 10 ml (2 teaspoons) every 12 hours
· Children 6- 11 years- 5 ml (1 teaspoon) every 12 hours
· Children 4-6 years- 2.5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) every 12 hours
- Expectorants (guanfacine)- meant to thin mucous, but not particularly effective.What NOT to use for coughs and colds:
- Avoid raising the head of a crib unless directed- babies move, and may end up in a dangerous position.
- Antibiotics– these attack bacteria, but do not work against viruses. We will not prescribe antibiotics without evaluating your child, and only use them for treatment of likely bacterial ear infections, bacterial sinusitis and bacterial pneumonia. Overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- Over the counter mixed ingredient cold and cough medications in children younger than 4- the FDA has recommended against the use of such medications due to serious and significant side effects and lack of efficacy in young children.
- Homeopathic remedies– have no evidence or safety data for any cold symptoms.
- Zinc– most high quality studies show no benefit to the use of zinc, and the mineral can cause significant side effects such as bad taste, nausea, and even permanent loss of the sense of smell in zinc-containing nasal cold remedies
191 Post Road West, Suite 201
Westport, CT 06880
We are located in the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center building, off the street and behind Schulhof Animal Hospital.
Non-urgent medical or administrative messages can be sent through our patient portal. We will respond within 2-3 business days.
Sick visit requests may also be made through the portal on weekdays only.
Monday - Friday
8:30 am - 12:00 pm
1:30 pm - 5:00 pm
We offer urgent visits in the mornings only. Please call the office by 10 am for an appointment.
If your child’s illness or injury is life-threatening, please call 911.
For urgent after hours concerns, call our office. Our clinicians are on call 24/7.
Poison Control Hotline