When you touch your toddler’s forehead and it feels like she’s burning up, it’s natural to hit the parent panic button and wonder if you need to make a visit to the emergency room.
In most cases, though, a fever by itself doesn’t warrant an emergency room visit. Knowing how to measure and treat your child’s fever can help you avoid a trip to the hospital and get your toddler the relief she needs.
In general, you should consider taking your toddler to the emergency room if he has a fever of 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit or higher that doesn’t drop within an hour after home treatment and you can’t reach his pediatrician. If your child’s fever is lower than 102 degrees Fahrenheit and he’s not showing other signs of illness, you can probably skip the emergency room and check in with your pediatrician instead.
The most accurate way to determine your toddler’s temperature exactly is to use a digital rectal thermometer. An electric ear thermometer, which measures the temperature inside your child’s eardrum, is a good alternative as long as your toddler isn’t very small for her age. Using a digital thermometer held under the tongue can give you a general idea of your child’s temperature, but it won’t provide an accurate number.
If your child has a low fever, monitor her, but don’t treat it. Your child’s fever is a sign that her body is fighting off infection. To treat a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, give your child a fever-reducing medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and help her cool down with a damp washcloth and plenty of cool liquids to drink. Her fever should drop within an hour.
If you’re taking your child to the emergency room, be sure to call your child’s pediatrician before you leave. Your child’s pediatrician is familiar with your child’s medical history and may be able to expedite the emergency room process by calling ahead for you or allow you to skip the emergency room entirely by prescribing immediate home treatment and scheduling a follow-up appointment for the next day.
If your toddler’s fever is lower than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, but she won’t stop crying, is extremely irritable or lethargic, breaks out in a rash or develops bruise-like marks, complains of a stiff neck, abdominal pain or severe headache, seems to be having trouble breathing or leans forward and drools, head for the emergency room. These symptoms can all be signs of a serious illness that needs immediate medical attention.