How many times have you rushed your feverish infant to the doctor or clinic, only to be told there’s nothing they can do and you just have to wait and watch? If it’s happened even once, you’ve probably wondered, “When should I take my baby with a fever into the doctor?”
Good news: the American Academy of Pediatrics has specific recommendations to help you figure this out.
First, the decision to go to the doctor depends on your baby’s age and the height of the fever. Here are the recommendations:
- Birth to 3 months: If your newborn spikes a fever in the first few months of life, he or she needs to be seen immediately by a physician. In this age group, a temperature should be taken rectally for the most accurate measurement. Any reading of 100.4 degrees or higher is considered a fever and needs to be evaluated right away.
- Under 2 years old: If your child has a fever (100.4 degrees or higher) for more than 24 hours, he or she should be seen by the doctor to look for underlying causes that can be treated, as well as to look for signs of dehydration. It’s OK to attempt to bring the fever down in most cases before going to the doctor, either with at-home remedies or with over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If your baby can’t take oral medication, an acetaminophen suppository is a good alternative.
- Over 2 years old: Older children who have a fever (100.4 degrees or higher) for more than 72 hours (3 days) should be evaluated by a doctor. Any child who acts or looks sick after the fever is lowered with acetaminophen or ibuprofen should be seen sooner, as well as any child who seems to be worsening quickly.
Additionally, if your child has the following worrisome symptoms, they should be seen sooner than the recommendations listed above:
- Fever rises above 104 degrees repeatedly
- Seems very drowsy, difficult to wake up, or irritable and cannot be consoled
- Stiff neck or headache
- Severe ear pain or sore throat
- Unexplained rash
- Multiple episodes of vomiting and diarrhea
- Decreased wet diapers, dry lips, or sunken eyes
- Underlying problems with the immune system such as diabetes, cancer, or sickle cell disease
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, May 2020