Main Line Pediatrics

Are You Sick?


Is this your symptom?

  • Fever is the only symptom
  • Fevers can be defined using one of these temperature measurements:
  • Oral reading greater than 100.0°F (37.8°C)
  • Ear reading greater than 100.4°F (38.0°C)
  • Rectal reading greater than 100.4°F (38.0°C)
  • Forehead strips are not reliable

Some Basics...

  • In most cases, fevers do no harm. They may help the body fight off an infection.
  • Still, it is important to remember fever is not normal. Fever most often means that a person has an infection. Fever occurs with colds, the flu, and pneumonia.
  • Fever can be a sign of a serious illness. This is more likely in older adults or people with a weak immune system.
  • Adults tend to run lower fevers than children. Older people have even lower fevers or no fevers.
  • Fevers can cause muscle aches, an upset stomach, or headaches. They may cause people to feel faint or weak.

Normal Body Temperature

  • 98.6°F (37°C) is the temperature that most doctors say is normal.
  • The normal temperature of healthy older people is the same as younger adults.
  • The normal temperature of chronically ill older people may be lower than that of healthy adults. Temperature readings in these people must be done with care. It may be easy to miss fevers in these people.

Normal Variations in Body Temperature

  • There are normal daily changes in body temperature. The low reading is found at 6 AM and the high at 6 PM. These readings vary by 0.9°F (0.6°C).
  • In women, it can rise about 0.9°F (0.6°C) at the time of ovulation.
  • Temperature can go up because of activity. This happens a lot during hot weather.

When to Call for Fever

Call 911 Now

  • Trouble waking up or acting confused
  • Very weak (can't stand)
  • Severe trouble breathing (struggling for each breath or can't speak)
  • Lips or face are blue
  • Rash with purple (blood-colored) spots or dots
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Fever over 103° F (39.4° C)
  • Fever and have diabetes
  • Fever and have a weak immune system (such as HIV, cancer chemo, long-term steroids, splenectomy, transplant)
  • Fever and are bedridden (nursing home patient, stroke, chronic illness, or recovering from surgery)
  • Fever and have an intravenous catheter (central line, PICC, or peripheral intravenous line)
  • Headache and stiff neck (can't touch chin to chest)
  • Trouble breathing
  • You feel dehydrated (dizzy, dry mouth, very thirsty)
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Fever over 100.4° F (38.0° C) and traveled abroad in the last month
  • Fever lasts more than 3 days
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Fever with no signs of serious infection

Care Advice for Fever

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Having a fever most often means that you have an infection. Most fevers are good and help the body fight infection.
    • The goal of fever therapy is to bring it down. Use these numbers to help understand fevers:
      • 100-102°F (37.8-38.9°C): Low-grade fevers. These may help your body fight infection.
      • 102-104°F (38.9-40°C): Moderate-grade fevers. These may cause discomfort.
      • Over 104°F (over 40°C): High fevers. These may cause discomfort, weakness, headache, and tiredness.
      • Over 107°F (over 41.7°C): These fevers can be harmful.
    • You can treat most fevers at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. For All Fevers:
    • Drink cold fluids to stay hydrated. This replaces fluids lost when you sweat. It improves heat loss through your skin. Adults should drink 6-8 glasses of water daily.
    • Dress in one layer of lightweight clothing and sleep with one light blanket.
    • For fevers 100-101°F (37.8-38.3°C), this is the only treatment. You do not need to take fever medicine.
  3. Fever Medicine:
    • For fevers above 101°F (38.3°C) take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) fever drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • The goal for treating fever is to bring it down to a comfortable level.
    • Fever medicine usually lowers fevers by 2° F (1-1.5°C).
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your fever get better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  4. Lukewarm Shower for Lowering Fever:
    • Take the fever medicine first.
    • Take a lukewarm shower or bath for 10 minutes. Lukewarm water should not make you shiver, but should cool you off. This helps fevers to go down.
    • Do not sponge yourself with rubbing alcohol.
  5. What to Expect: Most fevers from a virus vary between 99.5 and 103°F (37.5-39.5°C). They often last for 2 to 3 days.
  6. How It Is Spread: Return to work or school after the fever is gone.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Fever lasts more than 3 days (72 hours)
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

Last Reviewed: 5/21/2019 1:00:22 AM
Last Updated: 3/14/2019 1:00:24 AM

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