Fever in childrenOverview

High temperature is very common in young children. The temperature usually returns to normal within 3 or 4 days.

What is a fever?

Important

A normal temperature in babies and children is about 36.4C, but this can vary slightly from child to child.

A fever is a high temperature of 38C or more.

Fever is the body's natural response to fighting infections like coughs and colds.

Many things can cause a high temperature in children, from common childhood illnesses like chickenpox and tonsillitis, to vaccinations.

Checking a high temperature

Your child might:

  • feel hotter than usual to the touch on their forehead, back or tummy
  • feel sweaty or clammy
  • have red cheeks

Use a digital thermometer (which you can buy from pharmacies and supermarkets) to take your child's temperature.

What to do if your child has a high temperature

You can usually look after your child or baby at home. The temperature should go down over 3 or 4 days.

Do

  • give them plenty of fluids
  • look out for signs of dehydration
  • give them food if they want it
  • check on your child regularly during the night
  • keep them at home
  • give them paracetamol or ibuprofen if they're distressed or unwell

Don't

  • do not undress your child or sponge them down to cool them – fever is a natural and healthy response to infection
  • do not cover them up in too many clothes or bedclothes
  • do not give aspirin to under 16s
  • do not combine ibuprofen and paracetamol, unless your GP tells you to
  • do not give paracetamol to a child under 2 months
  • do not give ibuprofen to a child under 3 months or under 5kg
  • do not give ibuprofen to children with asthma

Read more about giving medicines to children

Get an urgent GP appointment if your child:

  • is under 3 months old and has a temperature of 38C or higher, or you think they have a fever
  • is 3 to 6 months old and has a temperature of 39C or higher, or you think they have a fever
  • has other signs of illness, such as a rash, as well as a high temperature
  • has a high temperature that's lasted for more than 5 days
  • doesn't want to eat, or isn't their usual self and you're worried
  • has a high temperature that doesn't come down with paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • is showing signs of dehydration – such as nappies that aren't very wet, sunken eyes, and no tears when they're crying

Call NHS 111 at evenings and weekends

Knowing the signs of more serious illness

It's quite rare for fever to be a sign of anything serious (like meningitis, a urinary tract infection and sepsis).

Call 999 or go to A&E if your child:

  • has a stiff neck
  • has a rash that doesn't fade when you press a glass against it
  • is bothered by light
  • has a fit (febrile seizure) for the first time (they can't stop shaking)
  • has unusually cold hands and feet
  • has pale, blotchy, blue or grey skin
  • has a weak, high-pitched cry that's not like their normal cry
  • is drowsy and hard to wake
  • finds it hard to breathe and sucks their stomach in under their ribs
  • has a soft spot on their head that curves outwards (bulging fontanelle)

Page last reviewed: 25/09/2017
Next review due: 25/09/2020