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Fever: A Timeline of General Discomfort


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Seriously, has ANYONE seen that darn thermometer???


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!


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.


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.


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?


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.


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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