Today we are going to bust some myths about fever.
We had a big class yesterday with some lovely first time mums and these questions kept coming up, and it seems fever can be quite misunderstood.
So let’s start with the numbers!
The fever or the number on the thermometer, doesn’t correlate to the severity of the illness. A child can have a fever of 38, or they can have a fever of 41, but to us it’s still just a fever.
The fact that one child has a fever of 41, another has one of 38, doesn’t mean that the one with a higher fever is more sick. It’s just a fever.
What we’re more concerned with as healthcare professionals is what’s causing that fever.
The child’s brain is not going to overhead, which is a major worry to a lot of parents, that only would ever happen in a very rare occasion where there is a previous brain injury and the brain isn’t working properly and the hypothalamus can’t regulate the temperature.
The body is very clever and a fever is there to protect your child. When they have a virus or bacterial infection, their body releases fighter cells, which tells the hypothalamus in the brain to heat up because a virus or a bacterial infection can’t multiply in that kind of hot environment.
So when we give paracetamol ibuprofen, we bring down that temperature, which yes, makes a child feel better, but actually it’s going against what the body’s trying to do.
So we don’t say not to give it if your child is in pain or very distressed, but if they are ok, quite comfortable and not too miserable, then maybe we don’t need to give the paracetamol or ibuprofen.
We want you to be aware of that because what we may be doing is prolonging the illness by bringing down a fever that the body is trying to put there to protect us.
We tend to lose our appetite when we have a fever, because it’s an awful lot of work to digest food, it takes a lot of energy and a lot of calories. Our immune system is already working really hard to get us better and trying to fend off all these nasty bugs and heating the body up, so by feeding a child that doesn’t really want to eat, um, we’re just making the digestive system get involved and taking all that energy away from the immune system.
However, they always need to drink. That is non-negotiable. There needs to be fluids.
If they can tolerate milk, then that’s fine, but what we really need to make sure is that those babies, especially the breastfeeds ones, we need to make sure we know what’s coming out. So we do this by keeping an eye on those nappies, make sure their nappies are nice and full or at least that they are having regular wet nappies. If their nappies start to dry up, we need to get that baby seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
Lastly, it is important to know, if your baby is under three months old and they have a temperature of 38 or above, they need to be seen straight away that same day. A baby that young does not have a very mature immune system and can get sick very quickly, so medical attention needs to be given that same day.
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