Dos and don’ts for treating your child’s fever

If your child has a fever and is less than 2 months old, head to the hospital.

According to Charles I. Shubin, M.D., we have a condition in the U.S. that he calls a “fever phobia.” “We are scared of fevers,” says the Medical Director of Children’s Health Center, Mercy Family Care (a subsidiary of Family Health Centers of Baltimore). “We’re worried that if we don’t treat a child’s fever, something bad will happen.” But as Dr. Shubin carefully points out, treating a fever doesn’t mean dosing a child with medicine. The best approach is to figure out what is going on with the child in the first place. From there, most of the time, it’s best to just let it run its course. Here’s how:

Understand what a fever is.  “A fever not a disease; it’s your body’s best mechanism to respond and defend itself to infection,” says Dr. Shubin. “You can’t ‘cure’ a fever, but you can try to cure what is happening to them.”
 
Look at the child. “We had three kids in the office today with fevers who were running around like nothing was wrong,” recounts Dr. Shubin. “So why would we interfere with the body’s natural response system?” Dr. Shubin says that the underlying principle for most doctors it to treat the child. If the child is miserable, treat him with an over-the-counter fever reducer. “Just know that if you do, it might make the child sick for longer.”
 
Keep your child hydrated. “Although most fevers are harmless, your child can become dehydrated. Keeping them hydrated will make them feel better.”
 
If your child is less than 2 months of age, take him or her to a hospital. A fever in a child this age is very concerning. “These children need to be seen right away as they might not be old enough to fight off infection,” he says. Another concern that warrants a trip to the hospital is if the child is becoming unresponsive.
 
Still worried? Call your pediatrician. “Doctors and their staffs have protocols to dispense advice over the phone. We can usually tell what is going on for peace of mind.”



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