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How To Tell if your Child Has a Fever

Updated on March 6, 2013
use your hand to feel the brow of a sick child to see if he has a fever
use your hand to feel the brow of a sick child to see if he has a fever

All children pick up bugs and ailments.

No matter how much we try to protect them, kids get sick.

Most bugs are shaken off within a day or two by a healthy immune system, but are still a great worry to parents at the time.

Most bugs just make kids feel off-color and miserable, but infections sometimes need treated with medical assistance.

One of the signs parents need to look out for are high temperatures.

This is often a sign that the immune system is not coping well, and your child can become really ill.

How can you tell when your child has a fever? What are the bench-marks of a high temperature?

Certainly, you can feel your child's forehead with the flat of your palm.

The brows of children with fevers feel hot, with almost a burning heat compared to normal. However, it takes a lot of practice to be able to definitively diagnose a fever this way.

Do not be afraid to practise this, because children derive comfort from your hand being gently placed across their forehead.

To tell the exact temperature, it is much better to use a thermometer.

Centrigrade/Farenheit chart

Temperature in Centigrade
Temperature in Farenheit
Degree of Fever
low fever
medium fever
medium to high fever
high fever
high fever
very high fever

What are normal body temperatures?

The normal body temperature is 35.5ºC/95.9ºF to 37.2ºC/98.9ºF

Temperatures below 35.5C/95.9F are indicative of hypothermia, and are not discussed here.

Temperatures above 37.2C/98.9F are considered to be high, or feverish.

Temperatures of 38C/95.9F, 39/102.2F or even 40C/104F are not uncommon in sick children, whose immature immune systems tend to cope less well, and send temperatures higher than adults would be expected to contend with.

To prevent fever fits, it is best to try and reduce high fevers in children where possible.

It will also help your child to feel a little better.

glass mercury thermometer
glass mercury thermometer


The most accurate thermometers are those filled with mercury.

Mercury is highly poisonous, and because of the risk of accident, there are many digital thermometers on the market now.

As I haven't used them and so cannot vouch for their accuracy, it is seldom of great importance to know the exact reading anyway.

A child has a fever, or not.

Any thermometer will tell you that.

If a child has a high fever, or a very high fever, then home thermometers will tell you, even if they are a fraction of a degree off.

It actually makes no difference for you, or your doctor, to know.

The only thing I would caution against is using one of the ear thermometers on a sick child.

A high percentage of all childhood fevers are caused be ear infections. The insertion of a thermometer to even the outer ear would cause intense pain, and so is best avoided.

Best way to check your child's temperature

Years ago, people did not not use thermometers at home.

Readings were only ever taken by doctors or nurses on call, or in hospitals.

There is a half degree difference in your body's internal temperature, compared to its external temperature.

The most accurate readings are taken from inside the mouth, but because of the risk of cross-infection/danger of thermometers breaking, the underarm is the place of choice in which to place a thermometer.

Place the tip slap bang in the middle of the underarm, preferably in a situation where it is covered on all sides by skin.

Hold it there was about 2 minutes.

Remove and read. Add half a degree and you have a more or less accurate reading.

How to Reduce Fever in Children

There are various ways you can reduce your child's fever.

1. Paracetamol is excellent. Buy a proprietary liquid brand suitable for children, and give your child the minimum recommended dose for their age group.

2. Cool compress. A damp facecloth held against a feverish child's forehead will help lower temperature as well as make the child feel better. Never use freezing cold water. Rinse in hand-hot water and refresh as often as necessary.

3. Remove clothing. An over-heated body needs cooling quickly, and this can be achieved by removing warm clothing. If your child is in bed, remove outer blankets and covers, leaving only a thin sheet. If your child may start shivering, replace covers or clothing, but as this is also a sign of a high and fluctuating temperature, be prepared to remove them again at a moment's notice.

4. Tepid sponging. If your child's fever has reached 40 or beyond, then you must quickly reduce that temperature to help prevent fitting. This can be done by tepid sponging.

Take a cloth and a basin of warm water, and gently dab the skin all over your child's body. At such a high temperature, their skin will be burning hot to touch, and the warm water you add will cool their skin.

Do not be tempted to use cold water. This is too big a shock to the system.

Check your child's temperature again, and if it is still high, and you are unhappy about your child's condition, call for medical assistance.


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    • Health Visitor profile image

      Health Visitor 4 years ago from UK

      Yes it is quite easy to tell when a child has a fever because they feel so hot to touch. I didn't realise until recently that many folk do not know how to read a thermometer, far less know what is normal and what isn't, and that is why I wrote this hub. I'm hoping someone will find it useful. Thanks for commenting, and yes I've done the all-night thing too - better safe than sorry. Kids are such a worry at times!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Whenever my son has a fever, i could feel his body temperature goes up and he gets cranky and sleepy. Worst night is to stay awake to check his fever and changing the damp cloth until his fever cools down. Great hub. Voted up