Know when a fever is just a fever and when it requires medical attention—for adults and children.
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Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center

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Northshore Emergency Center

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Fever: Getting Hot | Get ER Ready

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Fever: A Timeline of General Discomfort


5:40pm   

You know the great thing about having a 7-year-old son? It’s that you always know exactly where he is and what he’s doing. Because 7-year-old boys haven’t figured out yet that sound travels.


5:43pm   

Speaking of sound ... it’s quiet now. Too quiet. Has been for awhile now. This is prime noise-making time for him. It’s almost like the he’s plotting something.


5:45pm   

So ... he’s just sitting there ... in his room. Quietly. This is odd. Slugger, you feeling okay? Yes? No? Maybe? Okay. He gets like this every once in a while. I’ll just leave him alone for now.


6:30pm   

Slugger, it’s dinnertime. What? You’re not hungry? But you’re pretty much always hungry. I’m no doctor, but I’m starting to think you might not be alright. Let me feel your forehead. Hmm. You could be warm. Then again, maybe not. How can anyone tell? I’m going to take your temperature.


6:35pm   

Has anyone seen the thermometer lately? They make those things so small. Too easy to lose.


6:40pm   

Seriously, has ANYONE seen that darn thermometer???


6:45pm   

Ah, the medicine cabinet in the guest bathroom. It’s always in the last place you look. Okay, now, why was I looking for this thermometer? Oh, slugger! Right!


6:50pm   

Yeah, you have a fever. At least I think you have a fever. 102 degrees is a fever, right? Yeah, that doesn’t sound normal. It’s gotta be a fever. I’m going to get you some Tylenol. You’ll take it and you’ll be fine.


8:00pm   

You feeling better yet, slugger? No? Seriously?!?! But the bottle said “maximum strength for children.” Maximum strength! How can you still be feeling bad? Okay, let’s check your temperature.


8:01pm   

Yikes! It’s gone up. Okay, mister, let’s get you taken care of. Your doctor’s office is probably long-closed by now. ER time.


What is a Fever?

Normal body temperature: 97.5° - 98.9°F

For adults and kids, even infants, a fever is defined as any temp over 100.4°F orally and 101.4°F using a rectal or temporal artery thermometer. But most fevers don’t require medical attention. Here’s a general guideline for when to call a doctor:

Age Oral Temp
Younger than 3 months Any fever ( >100.4°F)
3 to 6 months > 102°F
6 to 24 months > 102°F lasting more than 1 day
2 to 17 years > 102°F AND one ore more of these factors:
  • Seems unusually irritable, lethargic and uncomfortable OR
  • Lasts longer than 3 days OR
  • Doesn’t respond to medication
Adults Consistently > 103°F OR lasts longer than 3 days

People who have recently been immunized or have chronic medical conditions may be given specific instructions by their doctors when to report a fever.


Boy With High Fever

What Will the ER Team Want to Know About Your Fever?

At the ER, your medical team will want to get some information about your fever:

  • How long have you had the fever?
  • Has it stayed high? How high did it get?
  • Do you have any pain anywhere, like a headache?
  • Have you had any other symptoms like vomiting, fatigue, stiff neck or a rash?
  • Do you have any other medical conditions like diabetes, cancer, HIV?
  • Any recent surgery or cuts/injuries?
  • Have you traveled recently?
  • Have you been around anyone who is sick or has similar symptoms?
  • Have you been around pets or other animals?
  • Have you had any recent dental work or a teeth cleaning?
  • Are you taking any prescription drugs?
  • Have you taken anything for the fever? When did you take the last dose and what was the amount?
  • For a child, what immunizations has the child had and when?
  • Have you taken the child’s temperature at home? If so, when and how?
  • Has their activity level changed—sleeping, eating, playing?

8:15pm   

Well, what do you know? Turns out they take a fever pretty seriously here in the ER. Instead of laughing at me for bringing a child to the ER for a fever, they got me right into the examination room.


9:00pm   

Huh. Live and learn. Sometimes a fever isn’t JUST a fever. Sometimes it’s just a hint that there’s something much more dangerous happening. In this case, it was an ear infection. He never even told me his ear was hurting. But now I know. And the ER doc got us a prescription so we can start him on antibiotics tonight. Glad I brought him in when I did.

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Staying Hydrated with a Fever (or Flu, or Summer Heat)

Fever keeps you hot and can dehydrate you. When you’re dealing with symptoms like fever, especially when combined with warm weather, be attentive to dehydration. Some of the best ways to stay hydrated:

  • Carry a water bottle. Have water available and drink it regularly. Stick with water or sports drinks and avoid caffeine or alcohol, which can dehydrate you.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables. The water contained in fruits and veggies can help, as can soups.
  • Keep it cold. Try ice chips or popsicles.
  • Steam and humidity. It’s not quite as effective as drinking, but taking a hot shower with lots of steam can help hydrate you. If you are dealing with dry air, a humidifier can help.
  • Pay attention to your body. Illness or being in different conditions (like when traveling) can dehydrate you without you realizing it. Check your urine color. It should be almost clear. If it is dark, you are probably dehydrated.

How to Quickly Lower a High Fever Safely

Medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen will reduce a fever gradually. You can also try these methods to bring down a fever faster:

  • Fluids. Drink plenty of water, tea and sports drinks. For children, use water, popsicles or oral rehydrating solutions. For infants, nurse them more often or give them bottles more often.
  • Lukewarm bath. Bathe in a lukewarm bath or shower. Don’t use ice, cold water or alcohol. If shivering starts, warm up the water and then get out.
  • Wear light clothing. Light, loose clothing keeps the body cooler.

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Focusing on Patients, Not Paperwork

That’s why Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center uses medical scribes…

If you are in the ER for any reason, you want your medical team focusing on you, not your paperwork. Your medical team wants that too, but the increasing demands of medical documentation make it difficult. That’s why Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center uses medical scribes to both better document patient care and make sure your doctor can focus on giving you that care.

Scribes are medical documentation specialists who have portable workstations and take notes while the physician talks to patients – kind of like your personal stenographer.

An added benefit? It helps the entire ER team transition more quickly from patient to patient, lessening the wait time for everyone.

Medical Scribe Documents Patient Care in Emergency Room

ER Checklist: What to Bring

  • Insurance card and photo ID
  • List of current medications and dosages
  • List of allergies
  • Test results or information related to recent diagnosis or chronic condition
  • Phone number and correct spelling of your primary physician’s name
  • Phone number for your emergency contact
  • List of questions and pen/paper to write answers
  • Glasses and hearing aids
  • Healthcare paperwork (advance directive, healthcare proxy, DNR)
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Someone to help translate if you’re not fluent in English
  • Another adult to help or keep you company
  • For suspected poisoning: Bring the medication, household cleaner or other substance with you, including the container
  • For kids, you might also want to bring a comfort item, like a stuffed animal, and something to do (e.g., toy or coloring book)

Do not delay seeking medical attention to find these items.

Spread the Word: Know When To Go to the ER for Fever

When is a fever just a fever and when should you head to an ER? Use your Facebook or Twitter accounts to help your friends tell the difference:

Child temp higher than 100.4 Social Share Card
Aspirin Not For Children Social Share Card
Fever Myth: Feeding the Fever Social Share Card
Teething Shouldn’t Cause Fever Social Share Card