What you need to know:
- Fever affects all children and mainly acts as a signal that the child’s immune system is actively fighting body infections, according to experts.
If there is one thing that denies parents sleep, it is recurrent bouts of fever among infants and toddlers.
While fever can be a good thing by acting as an alert, the fact that it can arise from various factors, tends to confuse most parents, especially young mothers, sending them into panic mode.
Healthy Nation spoke to Dr John Wachira, a Paediatrician at MP Shah Hospital, in attempt to learn more about fever, its causes, symptoms and treatment.
The expert also demystifies the use of commonly used Over the Counter (OTC) medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, as treatment for infants and toddlers suffering from fever.
Fever affects all children and mainly acts as a signal that the child’s immune system is actively fighting body infections, according to experts.
“All children get a fever at one time in life. Largely, fever itself usually causes no direct damage It's often a sign that the body is fighting an infection,” says Dr Wachira.
So what actually causes fever in children?
Common causes of fever in children
Infection – According to experts, most fevers are caused by infection which can be a viral infection or a bacterial infection.
Teething – When toddlers start teething, they may register a slight rise in body temperature.
However, if the child’s temperature is higher than 37.8°C, there is probably another cause for the fever, the paediatrician elaborates.
Immunizations – Toddlers can develop low-grade fever after vaccination.
Overdressing – Did you know that over dressing infants especially newborns can cause them to have fevers?
“Infants, especially newborns, may get fevers if they're over bundled or in a hot environment because they don't regulate their body temperature as well as older kids,” he explains.
Experts say that fever is not always a reason to worry.
When not to worry about a fever?
When the child is still able to play.
When the child is feeding and drinking without a fuss.
If the baby is alert and is smiling at you.
If the child still look like their normal self.
That said, there are some scenarios where fever in children signals danger and quick response is needed like visiting a doctor with immediate effect.
Danger signals of fever?
If a baby who is younger than three months has a temperature 38°C or higher
In case of an older child, if the temperature is higher than 39°C that is a red alert.
If the child refuses fluids or seems too ill to drink adequately.
When the child has bouts of diarrhea or start vomiting several times.
When a child complains of a specific body pain or discomfort such as sore throat, earache or pain when passing urine.
If the child suffers from an underlying problem such as heart disease, cancer, or sickle cell disease.
If the child develops convulsions.
Treatment for a child suffering from fever
According to Dr Wachira, if a baby looks alright in all ways then there is no need for medical treatment.
However, if a child develops an abnormal fever, you can try the following as you seek medical attention.
If the child becomes irritable and uncomfortable, expert advise that paracetamol or ibuprofen can be administered based on the package recommendations for age or weight and prescription given by the doctor.
For parents who have a penchant for bundling up their newborns, you might want to try removing excess clothing.
It is also advisable to give children plenty of fluids.
About feeding, the paediatrician advises that kids should be allowed to eat what they want in moderation, but in the event they do not like a particular meal, do not force them.
It is also not advisable to give medicine to childreb each time they develop a fever.
“There is no need to give fever medication every time. The idea that any fever must be treated immediately with medicines could be wrong in many cases,”
“Fever reducers treat a symptom, not the cause of an illness. Fever helps the body fight infections. It is part of the immune response,” he expounds.
Is it safe to use Paracetamol to treat fever in children?
Paracetamol is a commonly used medicine that can help to treat pain and reduce a high temperatures also known as fever, including fevers caused by illnesses such as colds and flu.
The drug is also used to relieve mild or moderate pain, such as headaches, toothache or sprains.
According to experts, Paracetamol can very safe medicine when it is given correctly according to instructions prescribed by a doctor.
Misuse of Paracetamol and its effects
Giving excess dosage of Paracetamol, also referred to as Paracetamol Overdose, to children can be extremely pernicious and even fatal in some cases.
Paracetamol overdose is quite common and can either occur accidentally, misinformation or in the context of self-harm.
Significant overdose can result in liver failure if not promptly treated with the antidote.
According to Dr Irene Nzamu, a paediatrician at Kenyatta National Hospital, Paracetamol is often misused in infants/toddlers.
She cites liver toxicity as the most common side effect of giving excess Paracetamol than the required dosage to children, which she says often leads to hospitalization.
In home treatment of children having a fever, Dr Nzamu advises caregivers to use tepid sponging.
“The best strategy is always to expose the baby first, and tepid sponging,”
“Paracetamol is okay if given when necessary, at the correct dosage for the weight of the baby and correct frequency, for the least possible duration of time,” she elucidates.
Dr Nzamu, who holds a Master's degree in Paediatrics & Child Health both from the University of Nairobi (UoN), reiterates on the importance of taking the child to a health facility in case you suspect they have a fever.
“Fever assessment has to be objective with a thermometer, though many of our mothers just touch a baby to decide there is fever,” says the medic who is also a Fellow in Paediatric Hematology & Oncology from Makerere University/Baylor College of Medicine.
Other drugs which are quite effective in treatment of fevers and as pain relievers, if given in correct dosage include NSAIDs.