Fevers are common in young children, especially if they have a chest infection or after a vaccination. A fever (a temperature of 37.8°C or higher) doesn’t necessarily mean you or your child has a serious illness. In fact, a fever helps the body’s immune system to fight infection.
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People often want to give their child medicine, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to bring down the fever. This is not necessary, unless your child is distressed.
A fever is the body’s normal response to an infection, and fever can help slow the growth and spread of bacteria. So fever is a sign that your child’s immune system is doing its job – there is no need to try to bring down the fever.
If your child is in pain or is distressed, then painkillers can help them feel better. So if your child has a fever but is playing and happy, there is no need to give them paracetamol or ibuprofen. If your child has a fever and is miserable, paracetamol or ibuprofen can help.
If you give your child paracetamol, you need to make sure you give the right dose. Too much paracetamol can damage your child’s liver. The right dose depends on:
You can use the dosing table below to work out how much you should give your child:
Don’t give your child more than 4 doses in any 24 hours, and make sure you wait at least 4 hours between doses.
For more information about using paracetamol safely, please see:
An online calculator to work out the right dose can be found:
A fever does not mean your child needs antibiotics.
For these reasons, antibiotics shouldn’t be given unless your child has a bacterial infection.
Sometimes, children with fever may have a fit or seizure because of the fever. This is called a “febrile convulsion”. Medicine to bring down a fever, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, does not help to reduce the chance of your child having this type of complication.
Check with your doctor or phone Healthline on 0800 611 116 if you are worried.
It’s OK to ask questions
If you have questions about your symptoms or the medicines managing your symptoms, speak with your health professional.
For a list of supporting evidence for the issues discussed in this resource, please see:
Developed by Choosing Wisely New Zealand, 2018. Choosing Wisely does not assume any responsibility or liability arising from any error or omission or from the use of any information in these resources.
This article is part of our content on Choosing Wisely, a campaign encouraging a change in thinking by health professionals and consumers to avoid unnecessary medical intervention.