When is a fever a problem for adults and children?

A fever is a often a good indicator of sickness, but the seriousness of the fever itself isn’t always clear. Is there a big difference between 101 and 103 degrees? Understanding when fever is a cause for concern will make it easier to know what next steps to take.

What is a fever?

You have a fever when your body temperature rises past its usual temperature. Most people hover around 98.6 F (37 C) as their average temperature, so anything above that temperature would technically be a fever. Signs of a fever include sweating, shivering, dehydration, or headache.

A fever is one of the body’s responses to an infection, as it’s believed that an elevated temperature helps the body more effectively manage and clear an infection. So while a fever is in itself a bit of a problem, the real issue is what might be causing it.

When should I be concerned about a fever in adults?

For the most part, fevers occur due to minor infections, aren’t serious, and will go away on their own. There are some over-the-counter medications that will lower a fever, but you should consult your healthcare provider about whether it’s better to treat your fever or leave it alone. Outside of pregnancy, if your (as an adult) fever is under 103 F (39.4 C), you probably don’t need to worry. Once it becomes 103 F or higher or lasts more than three days, it’s best to call your healthcare provider. And during pregnancy, many healthcare providers recommend getting in contact with them even with a fever of 102 F (38.9 C). If you’re experiencing serious symptoms like vomiting or chest pain along with your fever, it’s best to visit urgent care or an emergency room.

What about a child’s fever?

Fevers are more serious in children than they are in adults. For an infant under 3 months old, you should call a doctor for any fever of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher. For 3 to 6 months old, call a doctor at 102 F or if your little one seems especially irritable or uncomfortable. For 6 to 24 months, call a doctor if a 102 F fever lasts longer than a day or is accompanied by other symptoms.

Once a child is older, you won’t need to take them to the doctor for a fever unless it lasts more than three days, there are other symptoms causing them discomfort, or they appear listless.

You should always speak with your or your child’s healthcare provider if you have questions about fevers, and when to seek help.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Fever.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. May 29, 2014. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Fever treatment: Quick guide to treating a fever.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. February 26, 2015. Web.
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