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In New Guidelines, Doctors Urge Calmer Response to Child Fevers

The new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics on managing fever in children recommend that parents not worry so much about their child maintaining a normal body temperature

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a new set of guidelines urging parents to avoid excessive use of fever-reducing medications when their child is running a temperature.

When little Kaitlyn had a 38-degree Celsius (101-degree F.) fever, her mother Jill Cox gave her a fever-reducing medication to get her body temperature back to normal - 37 (98.6 degrees F.). “When I am giving her the medicine it’s not just to reduce the fever it’s also to, you know, to make her feel more comfortable,” Cox clarifies.

The new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics on managing fever in children recommend that parents not worry so much about their child maintaining a “normal” body temperature.

Surveys by pediatricians show that half of all parents considered a temperature of less than 38-degrees (100.4 degrees F.) to be a fever. And a quarter of the surveyed caregivers said they would give fever reducers to children with body temperatures of just 37.8 degrees (100 degrees F.).

Dr. Kimberly Giuliano is a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s hospital. She was not involved in developing the new guidelines, but she welcomes their emphasis on the benefits of running a temperature. “Fever is the body’s natural defense mechanism to fight off infections. So, it raises the temperature to help fight off the bacteria or the virus that’s making the child sick. It also stimulates parts of the immune system to work a little bit better. So, fever is a good thing,” she explains.

Kate Hjelm says she knew that her one-year old Chloe was fighting infections when she ran a fever recently. But she still gave her child medication because she wanted to be able to do something as a parent. “It’s hard to resist doing something that you know might make them feel better right away even when you know in your mind that its really for their own good to not maybe not jump to give them medication,” she states.

Experts also note that fever helps our bodies recover quickly from viral infections by slowing the growth of bacteria and viruses and increasing the production of the white blood cells that are the body's main line of defense against infections.

The new guidelines note that despite widespread belief to the contrary, there is no established relationship between an untreated high fever and brain damage, seizures, and death. But mothers are more risk-averse.

“I am thankful for the fact that I live in a day and age where I live where I have medication that I can give my child to keep her to get healthy and to feel comfortable while she is fighting the sickness,” Cox said.

“She has been obviously in distress, not feeling well not able to sleep, so it has been really to keep her comfortable to get her some rest…right ?” Hjelm adds.

Physicians agree that the primary goal of treating child fever should be simply to improve overall comfort. They advise parents not to wake a sleeping child to administer a fever medication.

“A lot of parents think that because it says you can give their fever medicine every 4 to 6 hours that if that four to six hour mark falls in the middle of the night they should wake their child up to give it to them. But sleep is important tool for a sick child,” Dr. Giuliano said. “So, unless a sick child awakens on their own and they feel uncomfortable, there really is no need to re-dose the acetaminophen or ibuprofen in the middle of the night.”

The guidelines also recommend that caregivers watch for signs of serious illness and make sure the children drink plenty of fluids.

They also outline some of the risks associated with the use of fever reducers, such as masking underlying medical conditions, delaying treatment, and possible drug overdoses.