Fever 101: What to do and when to worry

Having a fever can leave you feeling miserable, hot and sweaty — and worried. How high is too high? When is it time to call the doctor? What do these numbers even mean? 

We tend to fear fevers. However, a fever generally means your immune system is doing its job by fighting off infection. A fever is a stimulation of the immune system and is the immune system’s attempt to gain advantage over bacteria or a virus. 

If you are experiencing a fever and other symptoms of COVID-19 — including cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, weakness, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, chills and loss of smell or taste — take the COVID-19 screening questionnaire via MyBSWHealth.

What qualifies as a fever?

Normal body temperature for adults is about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit but given that body temperature varies, the normal range is broad. It is very normal for body temperature to range between 98.6-99.9 and these temperatures (even if they are high for you) are less likely to be a true sign of illness. 

Regular body temperatures generally do not exceed 99.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, a true fever is when body temperature reaches 100.4 F (38 deg C). 

Parents, it’s easy to panic when your young child spikes a fever but first, take a deep breath. Keep in mind that kids usually spike fevers faster than adults and the temperatures tend to be higher as well; this is because children have an inexperienced immune system. 

At-home fever remedies

Fortunately, for low-grade fevers, there are a few steps you can take to make yourself more comfortable at home.

Rest

Your body needs lots of rest to give your immune system a chance to recover. Keep your body cool by sleeping with light clothing.

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Fluids

Fluids are essential since fevers can cause fluid loss and dehydration. For children younger than 1 year old, use oral rehydration products.  

OTC medication

Fever treatment for adults usually depends on the temperature. If the temperature is below 102 degrees and there is minimal discomfort, simple over the counter ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen or aspirin should be adequate. 

OTC medications should be used for children based on age and weight. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help reduce aches and pains, but parents should follow the directions and dose very carefully. Talk to your pediatrician about any medication questions.

When to call your doctor

If your fever reaches higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, come in to see your doctor. Also see your doctor if you have additional symptoms such as:

  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Stiff neck
  • Trouble breathing
  • Severe pain
  • Swelling or inflammation in the body
  • Pain with urination
  • Any malodorous vaginal discharge

If your child is less than 3 months old and has a fever, seek care immediately. For children older than 3 months old, seek medical care if their fever reaches 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. 

Fever with any of the following symptoms can also be a cause for concern in children:

  • Non-blanching dark rashes
  • Extreme irritability or lethargy
  • Severe pain
  • Difficulty moving a part of the body (most importantly the neck)
  • Trouble breathing or quick/forceful breathing
  • Poor appetite or fluid intake with decreased urine output

If ever in doubt, please reach out to your primary care physician. We can help you evaluate your symptoms and guide you in the right direction so you or your child can get the care you need.

Worried about a fever? Find a doctor near you or schedule a virtual visit today.

About the author

Pallavi Mukkamala, MD
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Pallavi Mukkamala, MD, is a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – Austin Circle C. Make an appointment with Dr. Mukkamala today.

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Fever 101: What to do and when to worry