Can fever damage a child’s brain permanently? Should the child be sent to hospital if fever relapses after taking an antipyretic? Does sweating under thick blankets help? These questions are often raised by confused parents when their children catch a fever.
According to guidelines given by Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority, fever is confirmed if oral or tympanic temperature is 38C (100.4F), or underarm temperature is 37C (98.6F), or rectal temperature is 38C (100.4F) or above.
Fever is not a disease but a symptom caused by infection or inflammation. That said fever alone does not cause a child’s brain permanent damage, unless encephalopathy such as encephalitis is developed during infection.
The main reason for children to have a fever is upper respiratory infection caused by filtration virus. Another reason can be bacterial or viral infection such as pneumonia, gastroenteritis, urethritis, encephalitis or meningitis.
Parents can observe the mental health of their children, to see if they eat and play the usual way, before visiting the doctor. If their children look dull, become unusually tired, refuse to eat, have fever cramps or even in a state of delirium, parents should take the child to the doctor immediately.
Unless the sick children present severe symptoms or are medically confirmed to be infected by bacteria or viruses, antibiotics and antiviral drugs would not be prescribed because a healthy immune system can heal a mild fever by itself.
As a matter of fact, there is no special formula that can guarantee immediate recovery from a fever.
A few reminders for parents when they handle fever in their children:
1. Patients must finish the entire antibiotic or antiviral treatment prescribed by doctors.
2. Parents should give antipyretic to their children on time according to doctors’ guidelines. Antipyretic can only help lower body temperature and relieve discomfort but it does not cure diseases. Fever relapsing after a few hours is a normal phenomenon so parents do not have to panic.
3. It is a false notion that sweating under thick blankets can help reduce fever. Not only does it not facilitate ventilation, it increases body temperature. Children should wear thin but long-sleeve clothing.
4. Keep windows open to allow good ventilation.
5. Drink enough water. Mothers can breastfeed more often to prevent their babies from dehydration through over-sweating during fever.
6. Try to lower the child’s body temperature by giving a sponge bath using lukewarm water. Do not use cold water or rubbing alcohol, which cause contraction of blood vessels, making it harder for the body to lose heat.
Fever can be deemed an important step on the way for children to develop strong immunity. Parents should stay calm as they walk their children through the phase.
Lee Yan is co-author of this article that appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 20
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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