High temperature is very common in young children. The temperature usually returns to normal within 3 or 4 days.
What is a fever?
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.
How to take your child's temperature
- Place the thermometer inside the top of the armpit.
- Gently close the arm over the thermometer and keep it pressed to the side of the body.
- Leave the thermometer in place for as long it says in the instruction leaflet. Some digital thermometers beep when they're ready.
- Remove the thermometer. The display will show your child's temperature.
If your child's just had a bath or been wrapped tightly in a blanket, wait a few minutes then try again.
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.
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
get medical advice if you're worried about your child
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 a 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
Urgent advice: 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 5 days or more
- does not want to eat, or is not their usual self and you're worried
- has a high temperature that does not come down with paracetamol or ibuprofen
- is showing signs of dehydration – such as nappies that are not very wet, sunken eyes, and no tears when they're crying
Call NHS 111 in the evening and at 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).
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if your child:
- has a stiff neck
- has a rash that does not fade when you press a glass against it
- is bothered by light
- has a fit (febrile seizure) for the first time (they cannot 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)
Media review due: 7 June 2020
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Page last reviewed: 26 September 2017
Next review due: 26 September 2020