How to Know When It's Time to Call a Doctor About Your Child's Fever

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

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Your child has a fever. When is it time to call your pediatrician? A higher temperature than usual for long period should prompt a visit to your pediatrician. Any fever in a baby younger than three months old needs immediate medical attention. For fever in older infants and children, your child's behavior and activity level may help indicate how serious their condition is.

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 two to three months old has a rectal temp at or above 100.4 F (38.1 C)—seek immediate attention from your doctor or go to the emergency room.
  • A child of any age repeatedly has a temperature above 104 F (40 C).

When to Go to Your Child's Doctor About Fever

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 105 F temp and be running around the room playing, while another with a 99 F temp can be seriously ill. Don't let the number on the thermometer fool you.

Whatever your child's temperature, if your child is very irritable and doesn't have some playful moments, is breathing fast and hard, or is not eating and sleeping well, you should still call your pediatrician.

It is also important to keep in mind that children normally have higher temperatures than adults, so a rectal temperature under 100.4 F is often considered to be normal for a child under 3 years old.

Other Considerations When Deciding Whether to Call Your Child's Pediatrician

Other things to consider about your child's fever and whether or not to call your pediatrician includes:

  • Does your child have any chronic medical problems? It would be much more concerning if a child has a VP shunt, sickle cell disease, or had just received a dose of chemotherapy and has a fever, etc. A fever in these situations could be a medical emergency.
  • Does your child have a good reason to have a fever? A fever with a runny nose and cough in a child who is playing, eating, and sleeping well, etc. is much less concerning (they likely have a cold virus) than a child with a fever and no other symptoms (what is the source of the fever?).
  • Does your child seem a lot better once their temperature goes down? While a high fever might not go down to normal, it should go down a few degrees with a fever reducer and your child should feel better. If not, that would be a good reason to call your pediatrician.
  • Is your child getting 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.
  • Does your child have a rash? A rash can be associated with many childhood infections. Some are very common, like roseola, but others can be life-threatening, such as meningococcemia.
  • How did you check your child's temperature? If they simply felt hot or you used an axillary (under the arm) thermometer, use a different method to confirm that your child really has a fever.

And most importantly, how worried are you about your child's fever? If you are concerned or worried, then call your pediatrician or seek medical attention.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. When your baby or infant has a fever. Updated October 18, 2017.

  2. KidsHealth.org. Fevers. Updated September 2018.

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

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