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
  1. Place the thermometer inside the top of the armpit.
  2. Gently close the arm over the thermometer and keep it pressed to the side of the body.
  3. Leave the thermometer in place for as long it says in the instruction leaflet - some digital thermometers beep when they're ready.
  4. 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.

Do

  • 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

Don't

  • 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

Read more about giving medicines to children

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)

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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