The hypothalamus is the temperature control center of the brain. In a young child this is not fully developed and means that children can struggle with temperature changes. This is why young children can often suffer with febrile convulsions, a seizure that may occur when their temperature is too high.
What is a “normal” temperature?
Everyone has their own personal “normal” temperature, however as a rough guide a temperature of 36.4C is normal. Anything over 38C would be considered high.
It is not unusual for children to have temperatures. This could be due to minor coughs and colds, part of childhood illnesses, or following a vaccination. When the body is fighting infections the temperature can rise to help your body fight the infection.
If the child has a temperature they may feel hot, they could be lethargic or irritable. They may appear sweaty or off their food.
There are many ways to take a temperature, by forehead, ear, or by placing a thermometer under the tongue or armpit. Digital thermometers are more accurate, but you should always follow the instructions for your device.
How do I treat a temperature in children?
It is important to keep your child hydrated so offer plenty of small frequent sips of fluid. If they are disinterested in drinking, attempt to entice them with ice lollies, milk shakes or fluid based foods like custards, soups, or ice creams.
You could also remove some clothing, the best thing for them to wear, is loose fitting clothing. Be sure to not let them wrap up in blankets even if they say they feel cold.
Children can cope for short periods of time without eating, providing they are drinking well. So try not to be too alarmed if they don’t feel like eating in their usual quantities. Make sure they don’t get dehydrated so ensure they are weeing regularly and that the urine isn’t dark yellow in colour. If the lips and mouth feel dry, then it is possible they are becoming dehydrated.
At any time if you are becoming concerned seek medical advice from the GP or pharmacist.
With regards to paracetamol: If the child has only a slight temperature and isn’t distressed or in pain there is no immediate need to give them paracetamol. However if they are appearing unwell or upset then paracetamol can help.
What not to do….
Do not be tempted to place the child in a cool bath or shower. This is actually counterproductive and can cause the temperature to raise quickly.
Please read any medication instructions carefully or seek advice before giving them if you are unsure. Aspirin should never be given to a child and you should avoid ibuprofen if the child has asthma.
Is it an emergency?
In the majority of cases the temperature wont cause a problem and should resolve in a few days. However you should call for emergency help
- If the child has an unusual cry such as high pitched
- Complains or a stiff neck or is distressed by lights
- Has any rash that does not fade when a glass is pushed against it
- If they have a seizure. Please see our epilepsy blog for further information on managing seizures
- If the skin becomes blue
- If they are unusually drowsy or wont wake
- Any concerns about the breathing
If you are concerned at any point about the child then please contact the GP for advice.