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Fever in children: When to see a doctor

Created: ; Last Update: June 6, 2019; Next update: 2022.

When children have a fever, it is usually caused by a harmless infection. But many parents start to worry if their child's temperature starts rising. Knowing what to look out for can help them decide whether to take their child to the doctor.

If a child has a fever, parents often wonder whether it could be something serious, whether they should go to the doctor or whether they should use medication to lower the fever. Generally speaking, if you feel unsure and worried, it's better to see a doctor. Simply calling the doctor’s practice may already be enough because you might get the answers you need over the telephone.

For instance, many common children's illnesses cause a typical rash as well as fever. If your child has typical symptoms of a more serious illness, it's a good idea to go to the doctor. It's also advisable to seek medical advice if the fever stays high, comes and goes in waves or if the child's health declines despite treatment. And it can be a good idea to see a doctor if the child has a febrile seizure.

The course of an illness can change quite suddenly in children: Parents shouldn't hesitate to go back to the doctor on the same day if necessary. They are the best judges of whether their child is behaving abnormally, reacting differently, being less active than usual, feeling very poorly or not drinking enough. Their judgment and experience are very important, and can also be of great help to the doctor.

What can you do if the doctor's practice is shut?

If the doctor's practice is closed, you can go to an out-of-hours doctor in certain practices or hospitals. You will find the addresses on the internet, in your doctor's practice or by contacting your health insurer, for instance. In Germany, you can call the on-call doctors' information hotline (ärztlicher Bereitschaftsdienst) on 116117. If you need urgent medical care, you can call the emergency services for an ambulance. The emergency telephone number is 112 in Germany and many other European countries, and 911 in the U.S.

When to see a doctor

It's a good idea to see a doctor if the fever

Illustration: High fever
is very high:
  • above 39 °C (102.2°F) in children,
  • above 38°C (100.4°F) in babies under three months old.
Illustration: Calendar
lasts
  • longer than one day in babies, and
  • longer than three days in children aged two and over
  • doesn't go down after taking fever-reducing medication.
Illustration: Calendar
comes and goes or
Illustration: Febrile seizure
leads to a febrile seizure.

What other symptoms should be checked out by a doctor?

You should also go to a doctor if the child has any of the following symptoms as well as a fever:

Illustration: Abdominal pain
Vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain
Illustration: Rash
A rash
Illustration: Breathing
The child has breathing difficulties, groans while breathing, or unusual rattling sounds can be heard when they breathe.
Illustration: Stiff neck
The child has problems moving their chin towards their chest. A stiff neck can be a sign of meningitis.

Babies under the age of three months may be more seriously ill even though they only have a slight fever or no fever at all. So it's important to take them to see a doctor if

Illustration: Stop drinking
they stop drinking,
Illustration: Different skin color
their skin color changes, or
Illustration: Apathy
they don't respond to you, appear "absent" or very restless.

Sources

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Fever in under 5s: assessment and initial management. May 22, 2013. (NICE Clinical Guidelines; Volume 160).
  • IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

    Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. We do not offer individual consultations.

    Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

© IQWiG (Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care)
Bookshelf ID: NBK279456

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