For healthy adults and older children, having a fever for a few days is usually no cause for alarm. A fever is your body’s way of fighting infection. If you’re dealing with a viral illness, rest and hydration are usually the best approaches for otherwise healthy patients. However, there are times when a fever is a sign of a more severe problem, especially in young children and seniors. And in the age of COVID, many of us look at even minor symptoms differently. But how do we know when it’s time to see the doctor because of a fever?
What Defines a Fever?
The medical community defines a fever as when your body temperature is 100.4 degrees or higher. Essentially, your body raises its temperature to fight germs. Remember, a fever isn’t an illness in itself. Instead, it’s a symptom of an infection or another condition. In addition to an elevated body temperature, signs of a fever can include chills, body aches, fatigue, and flushing.
What Causes Fevers?
Fever is generally associated with infections, either viral or bacterial. But other causes can also come into play, especially in older adults. Causes include:
- Viral infections, including the flu, COVID, and stomach viruses. Babies and young children can also get fevers from the common cold, ear infections, croup, and the RSV virus.
- Bacterial infections, including strep throat, e.coli, and bacterial ear infections. In some cases, fever can be a warning sign of a severe illness like meningitis.
- Some individuals may get a fever after a vaccination.
- Medications, heat stress, and chronic conditions can cause fevers, especially in older adults.
What’s The Best Way To Take My Family’s Temperature?
Old school mercury thermometers are a no-no. Digital thermometers are the way to go for safety and accuracy. Several types are available, with infrared scanning ear and forehead thermometers rising in popularity for home use.
- Rectal thermometers give the most accurate readings for young babies since they’re not old enough to hold a thermometer under their tongue. Armpit thermometers can also be an effective solution for babies younger than 6 months.
- For babies 6 months and older, parents can use an ear thermometer to get an accurate reading, reducing the stress of taking a wiggly baby’s temperature.
- For children, infrared no-contact forehead thermometers are a good option. Digital oral thermometers also give accurate readings if your child can sit still for a short time.
- Adults can choose forehead scanners or oral or armpit thermometers depending on comfort level and preference.
- Seniors may have trouble maintaining a consistent body temperature, so it can be challenging to get an accurate reading. An oral or armpit thermometer works best. Take several readings within a short timeframe to confirm the result.
A low-grade fever usually isn’t something to worry about for adults and older children. Hydration and rest are generally all you need for a fever of 102 or lower. Fever reducers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen still allow your body to fight the infection and can make you more comfortable. However, there are warning signs that can indicate your fever is a sign of a bigger problem.
When Should I See A Doctor About A Fever?
Babies, young children, and the elderly require extra levels of caution. Here are some guidelines by age group for when to call your primary care provider or pediatrician about a fever.
- Your high temperature doesn’t go down after taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- Your fever goes away and comes back.
- Your area has high COVID transmission rates.
- You are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
- You have a severe underlying condition like diabetes or cancer.
- You are pregnant.
You have a recent tick bite (your primary care provider will want to screen for Lyme Disease).
- You have recently traveled overseas.
A fever in older adults can indicate severe medical concerns. Fevers can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, heat stress, chronic conditions or medication side effects. Call the doctor if you or your loved one has:
- A fever of 103 degrees or higher
- Disorientation or confusion
- Convulsions or seizures
- Chest pain or trouble breathing
Babies and Children
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends calling your pediatrician if your infant under 3 months has a fever over 100.4. Fever in young babies can be a sign of a dangerous infection. Other reasons to call your pediatrician include:
- A child of any age has a fever of 104 or higher
- A child under 2 has a fever for more than one day
- A child over 2 has a fever for more than three days
- Your child’s fever goes away and comes back.
- Your child has febrile seizures
- Your child has vomiting or diarrhea, which can cause dehydration.
- Your child has unusual or concerning behaviors.
Worried About a Fever? Call Your Primary Care Provider
Having a trusted primary care provider when you’re sick can make a significant difference. Even if your provider doesn’t recommend medical treatment, it often helps to connect and rule out certain conditions. COVID-19 is still on many patients’ minds, and we want to rule out COVID before returning to work or school. With convenient offices across the DMV, Comprehensive Primary Care offers responsive care and peace of mind for adults, seniors, infants, children, and adolescents. In addition to well visits and chronic care management, we provide sick visits, urgent care, and convenient telemedicine visits. If you have a fever that’s cause for concern, our office can identify potential causes and schedule further testing as needed to help you get answers and speed up the healing process.