Babies and children often develop fever, meaning that their body temperature is higher than normal. It is not accurate to measure a child’s temperature just by feeling the skin with your hands. It is best measured by using a thermometer which can tell you if your child has fever and how high the temperature is.

What body temperature is regarded as fever in children?

Body temperature varies with age, general health, physical activity, the time of day and thickness of clothing. Everyone's temperature tends to be lower early in the morning and higher between late afternoon and early evening. With strenuous exercise, body temperature will also be slightly higher.

Normal body temperature is not a specific number but ranges from 36.1º C to 37.5º C. A temperature of more than 37.5º C may be a mild fever but any temperature exceeding 38º C may potentially be of concern.

How do I check my child's temperature for fever?

You can check your child’s temperature in several ways.

In the younger child aged less than 5 years old, you can place a digital thermometer under your child’s armpit (axilla) for a few minutes until the thermometer ‘beeps’ to signal that the temperature is ready for reading. Alternatively you can use the ear (tympanic) thermometer which has a cone-like nozzle that has to be directed towards the middle ear opening to avoid falsely low readings.

In the older child aged over 5 years old who can cooperate, you can place the thermometer under (not above) the tongue for a few minutes until it ‘beeps’ to signal that the temperature is ready for reading. In general, glass thermometers containing mercury are no longer recommended because of potential risk of exposure to toxic mercury if it breaks.

What causes fever in children?

As parents, it is natural and understandable that you feel anxious whenever your child is having a fever. Do remember that fever is a sign that something needs to be done and is not a sickness in itself. Fever is sometimes one way that the body fights an infection, and your child’s temperature will return to normal once the infection is treated.

  • Fever may be due to an infection, dehydration or inflammation.
  • Infections in children are more commonly due to viruses than bacteria. Antibiotics are useful treatment against bacterial infections but not against viral infections.
  • A fever does not necessarily mean that your child has a serious illness.
  • How high the temperature reaches is not always the best indication whether your child needs to be treated and/or evaluated. Instead, it is important to note how your child behaves and appears.

Read on to learn about what you can do when your child develops a fever.

Ref: R14