High fever in children is a fairly common sign and usually indicates that a child has a virus or bacterial infection. An elevated body temperature can make some children feel pretty bad, so it’s not surprising that some parents use Advil or Tylenol to bring a high fever down. There’s a considerable amount of controversy in the medical community about how to treat high fever in children. Some medical experts believe that a febrile child shouldn’t be treated with analgesics because it could prolong his or her illness. Should you give your child Tylenol or Advil if they have a fever?
High Fever in Children: Should You Use Analgesics?
There are several reasons why experts believe that a child with a fever shouldn’t take analgesics. For one, temperatures rise for a reason – to help recruit cells that fight infection. Studies show that animals that mount a fever response to an infection are more likely to survive than those where the fever is brought down unnaturally using analgesic medications.
Some studies also show that giving medications to lower fever can make an infection worse, while other studies show no ill effects. Unfortunately, there’s no real consensus on this issue and not enough studies have been done to say one way or the other whether giving fever lowering medications worsens or prolongs the course of an infectious illness.
The Febrile Child: Another Argument Against Using Analgesics
Lowering a fever with analgesics can mask the symptoms of an infection and make it more difficult to tell whether a child is improving or getting worse. High fever in a child should never be treated with analgesics until a diagnosis has been made, and it’s understood why the fever is occurring.
High fever in children is a sign that something is wrong – and it may not be a simple respiratory infection. It could be a more serious illness such as meningitis, pneumonia, or a kidney infection. Bringing the fever down by giving medications to lower fever can mask the symptoms, making it more difficult to make a diagnosis – and to know when an infection isn’t responding to treatment.
High fever in children under the age of two is more likely to be serious than fever in an older child, but all children need evaluation for a temperature over 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
Alternative to Analgesics for High Fever in Children
Of course, some children with fever feel pretty miserable. An alternative to giving medications to lower fever is to give a child with a fever a lukewarm sponge bath – but avoid using cold water or alcohol. If you do use analgesics, only use acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Never give a child aspirin for a fever since it increases the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
High Fever in Children: The Bottom Line?
It’s still not clear whether giving children fever lowering medications slows down the healing process. If a child still feels poorly after a sponge bath and you know why he or she has a fever, it’s okay to give ibuprofen or acetaminophen – but check with your child’s pediatrician first.
The Journal of Family Practice. Volum 59, No. 6. June 2010. page 353.