School is back in, summer is coming to a close, and for all us parents that means shopping for school supplies, getting the bed time routine back in order, and of course – illnesses! While we can’t always keep our kids from getting sick, hopefully we can keep from making ourselves sick with worry over the most common symptom of many illnesses: fever.
Fever is the body’s way of responding to and fighting infections. It is a natural part of the immune response, and although it can be uncomfortable to run a fever, it is actually helpful. But it causes a lot of anxiety and angst for us parents. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about fever out there, more than I could possibly cover in this article, but here are some of the common ones I hear from worried parents:
“Does fever cause brain damage?”
No. Fever caused by illness does not cause brain damage. Even if it’s a high fever, it will not harm your child. In very young infants, fever is still not dangerous, but it is important to make sure the illness causing the fever is not dangerous, so your baby’s doctor may ask you to have them seen if they have a fever over a certain level in some cases.
“What about seizures?”
It’s true that fever can trigger what are called “febrile seizures.” These are convulsions that are scary to watch, but they are benign and do not lead to brain damage, developmental delays, or speech problems. They affect between 2% and 4% of normal healthy children. They typically last under 5 minutes, followed by a period of sleepiness, and the child then returns to their normal state. They do not increase the risk of epilepsy (seizures not related to fever). Talk to your pediatrician if you have questions about febrile seizures.
“Do I need to treat fever? What if it does not come down with medicine?”
Fever does not need treatment. However, because it causes discomfort, most of us do tend to treat our kids’ fever with medicine to try to help bring it down, mainly to try to make them comfortable. When the fever medicine wears off, the fever will come back, and it may be treated again if desired. The fever will go away and not return once the body overpowers the virus. Most often, this is day 3 or 4, but sometimes even viruses can cause fever for 5 or 6 days. I recommend parents have a child seen if they have fever longer than 3 to 4 days, not because it is harmful, but to make sure there isn’t anything going on that might need to be treated (like an ear infection or other bacterial source).
Worrying about our kids is natural. Hopefully this will help take a little of the worry out of the school-time illnesses our children are likely to encounter. As I recommend with all of my patients, if you have any questions or concerns about your child, do not hesitate to call your child’s doctor or make an appointment to have them checked out. Sometimes peace of mind is worth a trip or a phone call!