Fever in children
High temperature is very common in young children. The temperature usually returns to normal within 3 or 4 days.
A normal temperature in babies and children is about 36.4C, but this can vary slightly from child to child.
A fever is a high temperature of 38C or more.
Fever is the body’s natural response to fighting infections like cough and cold.
Many things can cause a high temperature in children - from common childhood illnesses like chickenpox and tonsillitis to vaccinations.
Checking a high temperature
Your child might:
- feel hotter than usual to the touch - on their forehead, back or tummy
- feel sweaty or clammy
- have red cheeks
Use a digital thermometer (which you can buy from pharmacies and supermarkets) to take your child’s temperature.
How to take your child's temperature
- Place the thermometer inside the top of the armpit.
- Gently close the arm over the thermometer and keep it pressed to the side of the body.
- Leave the thermometer in place for as long it says in the instruction leaflet - some digital thermometers beep when they're ready.
- Remove the thermometer. The display will show your child’s temperature.
If your child’s just had a bath or been wrapped tightly in a blanket, wait a few minutes then try again.
What to do if your child has a high temperature
You can usually look after your child or baby at home. The temperature should go down over 3 or 4 days.
- give them plenty of fluids
- look for signs of dehydration
- give them food if they want it
- check on your child regularly during the night
- keep them at home
- undress your child or sponge them down to cool them - this doesn’t help reduce fever
- cover them up in too many clothes or bedclothes
- give aspirin to under 16s
- combine ibuprofen and paracetamol unless your GP tells you to
- give paracetamol to a child under 2 months
- give ibuprofen to a child under 3 months or under 5kg
- give ibuprofen to children with asthma
Get an urgent GP appointment if your child:
- is 3 to 6 months old and has a temperature of 39C or higher or you think they have a fever
- has other signs of illness, such as a rash, as well as a high temperature
- has a high temperature that has lasted for more than 5 days
- doesn’t want to eat, or isn’t their usual self and you’re worried
- has a high temperature that doesn't come down with paracetamol or ibuprofen
- is showing signs of dehydration - such as nappies that aren't very wet, sunken eyes, no tears when crying
At evenings and weekends – call 111
Knowing the signs of more serious illness
It’s quite rare for fever to be a sign of anything serious (like meningitis, urinary tract infection and sepsis).
Call 999 or go to A&E if your child:
- is under 3 months old with a temperature of 38C or higher or you think they have a fever
- has a fever you can’t control
- has a stiff neck
- has a rash that doesn’t fade when you press a glass against it
- is bothered by light
- has a fit (febrile seizure) for the first time (they can’t stop shaking)
- has unusually cold hands and feet
- has pale, blotchy, blue or grey skin
- has a weak, high pitched cry that’s not like their normal cry
- is drowsy and hard to wake
- finds it hard to breath and sucks their stomach in under their ribs
- has a soft spot on their head that curves outwards (bulging fontanelle)
If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.