When to Call the Doctor About Your Child's Fever

A mother checking her daughter's forehead to see if she has a fever

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Some kids will get as many as 8 to 10 colds a year before they turn 2; and a fever often accompanies many of those cold viruses. While in most cases a fever is nothing to worry about and just a sign of the body's defense mechanism, it still can be disconcerting for parents.

If your child has a fever, you may wonder when to call the pediatrician and when to treat your child's fever at home. Generally speaking, a higher temperature than usual for a long period should prompt a visit to your pediatrician.

But any fever in a baby younger than 3 months old needs immediate medical attention. For a fever in older infants and children, your child's behavior and activity level may help indicate how serious their condition is. Here's a closer look at everything you need to know about fevers in children.

COVID-19 and Fevers in Kids

If your child has a fever and has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, it's important to contact your doctor right away for guidance on how best to treat your child's symptoms and to determine if testing is appropriate. Although the coronavirus typically produces less severe symptoms in children, those with compromised immune systems or pre-existing health conditions may need to take special precautions.

What Is a Fever?

Children with a body temperature of 100.4 degrees F and higher have a fever. It's important to note that a fever is not an illness—it is usually a symptom of something else going on in the body, such as an infection or a virus. Babies and young children can even develop fevers from being overdressed or after getting an immunization.

To take your child's temperature, it's important to use a reliable digital thermometer. The most accurate and reliable method for taking a baby's temperature is with a rectal thermometer.

But if you feel uncomfortable using one, another method will work. Just be sure to tell the doctor which method you used, because temperatures can vary depending on whether the temperature is taken with a temporal artery scanner, ear thermometer, oral thermometer, or a rectal thermometer.

Rules for Fever in Infants and Children

In general, you should call your pediatrician or seek medical attention for a fever when:

  • A newborn or infant under 2 to 3 months old has a rectal temp at or above 100.4 F—seek immediate medical attention from your doctor or go to the emergency room
  • A child of any age repeatedly has a temperature above 104 F (40 C)

Fever in Babies

A fever in an infant 3 months old or younger should always be taken seriously because it could be a sign of a serious illness. Consequently, if your baby has a fever of 100.4 F or higher, you should seek immediate medical attention. Either call your baby's doctor or go to the nearest emergency room.

For babies older than 3 months of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) indicates that you should call your doctor right away if your child displays any of the following symptoms:

  • Temperature above 100.4 F for 24 hours
  • Temperature rises above 104 F
  • Your baby has been in a hot place such as a hot car
  • Your baby is unusually sleepy or fussy
  • Your baby has other symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or rash
  • Your baby has had a seizure

Toddler Fevers

Most fevers are harmless and simply a sign that your child's immune system is doing its job. In fact, many toddlers develop fevers even with minor illnesses. Typically, you don't need to call your doctor unless your your 12- to 24-month-old's fever is higher than 104 F, or if they have a fever of 100.4 F that lasts longer than 48 hours.

As long as your child is acting and playing normally, especially after the fever comes down, there is probably no cause for concern. But if your child is fussy and uncomfortable despite your efforts, is urinating less frequently, has other symptoms of an illness like a sore throat or cough, has a rash, is vomiting, or anything else that causes you concern, never hesitate to call the doctor.

Most doctors would prefer that you contact them just to check in. Together, you can decide the best route to take. They also can advise you on which fever reducer to give your child, if at all.

Kids' Fevers

How high a fever reaches doesn't necessarily tell you how sick your child really is, so don't panic every time your child has a fever. A child can have a temperature of 105 F and be running around the room playing, while another child with a temperature of 100.4 F can be seriously ill.

Whatever your child's temperature, if your child is very irritable and doesn't have some playful moments, is breathing fast and hard, has a rash, is vomiting, or is not eating and sleeping well, you should still call your pediatrician. Other things to consider about your child's fever and whether or not to call your pediatrician include:

  • Chronic medical problems: It would be much more concerning if a child has a shunt, sickle cell disease, or had just received a dose of chemotherapy and has a fever. A fever in these situations could be a medical emergency.
  • Lack of symptoms: A fever with no other symptoms is sometimes more concerning than a fever with a runny nose and cough in a child who is playing, eating, and sleeping well.
  • Child feels worse: A fever for a day or two with worsening symptoms, or a fever after a week of cold symptoms, would be a good reason to call your pediatrician.

Don't let the number on the thermometer be your only guide on when to call your child's doctor. If you feel like something is off with your child, or if you simply want reassurance, contact your child's pediatrician. Most doctors welcome calls from parents and prefer that you touch base with them about your child's illness rather fret and worry at home.

A Word From Verywell

Although fevers can be worrisome for parents, unless your baby is under 3 months of age, most of the time they are nothing to worry about. Fevers are usually just the body's way of fighting off viruses and other minor illnesses.

If you are concerned about your child's fever, never hesitate to call your pediatrician or seek medical attention, though. It's always better to be reassured that nothing is seriously wrong than it is to delay in getting treatment for your child. You know your child best, so never doubt your intuition, especially if you think something is seriously wrong.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. When your baby or infant has a fever. Updated October 2, 2019.

  3. Stanford Children's Health. Fever.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Kid's fevers: when to worry, when to relax.

  5. Soon GS, Laxer RM. Approach to recurrent fever in childhood. Can Fam Physician. 2017;63(10):756-762.

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. When to call the pediatrician: fever. Updated November 11, 2015.

Additional Reading
  • Sullivan JE, Farrar HC, the Section on Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Committee on Drugs. Fever and antipyretic use in childrenPediatrics. 2011;127(3):580-587. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-3852