Thursday, 13 June, 2024
HomeGuidelinesParents too quick to medicate children's fevers – US poll

Parents too quick to medicate children's fevers – US poll

Some parents may reach for medication too quickly when children feel warm, say researchers, cautioning that while a warm forehead is often an indication a child has caught a bug, parents may not be properly measuring or responding to elevated temperatures.

Most parents recognise that a low-grade fever helps a child’s body fight off infection, but the survey showed that one in three would give fever-reducing medication for spiked temperatures below 38 – which isn’t recommended – found the CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at University of Michigan Health.

Half of the parents would also use medicine if the fever were between 38 degrees C and 38.8 degrees C, and a quarter of parents would possibly give another dose to prevent the fever from returning.

Often parents worry about their child having a fever and want to do all they can to reduce their temperature.

However, they may not be aware that generally, the main reason to treat a fever is just to keep a child comfortable," said Mott Poll co-director and paediatrician Dr Susan Woolford.

“Some parents may immediately rush to give their kids medicine but it’s often better to let the fever runs its course. Lowering the temperature doesn’t typically help cure their illness any faster. In fact, a low-grade fever helps fight off the infection. There’s also the risk of giving too much medication when it’s not needed, which can have side-effects.”

The report is based on 1 376 responses from parents of children ages 12 and under polled between August and September 2022.

Two in three parents said they were very confident knowing whether their child needs medication to reduce a fever. But just over half are sure they understand how temperature readings can change according to the method used.

The method used to take a child’s temperature matters and can affect the accuracy of the measurement, Woolford notes. Most parents polled take their temperatures by forehead scan or mouth, while less than a sixth use ear, underarm or rectal methods.

Remote thermometers at the forehead or inside the ear canal can be accurate if used correctly. But forehead readings may be inaccurate, Woolford says, if the scanner is held too far away or if the forehead is sweaty. With ear thermometers, not recommended for newborns, earwax can also affect the reading.

For infants and young children, rectal temperatures are most accurate. Once children are able to hold a thermometer in their closed mouth, oral temperatures also are accurate while armpit temperatures are the least accurate.

“Contact thermometers use electronic heat sensors to record body temperature but temperatures may fluctuate depending on how it’s measured,” Woolford said.

“Regardless of device used, its important that parents review the directions to ensure the method is appropriate for the child’s age and that the device is placed correctly when measuring temperature.”

Three in four parents take their child’s temperature as soon as they notice a possible problem, while less than a fourth wait to see if the problem continues or worsens before taking the temperature.

Two-thirds of parents also prefer to try methods like a cool washcloth before using fever-reducing medication. Most parents also say they always or usually record the time of each dose and re-take their child’s temperature before giving another dose.

“A quarter of parents would give their child more medicine to prevent a fever from returning even though it doesn’t help them get better,” Woolford said. “If a child is otherwise doing well, parents should monitor them and using alternative interventions to keep them comfortable."

However, if a newborn or infant less than three months old has a fever, they should immediately see a doctor.

Fever in children


Michigan Medicine article – 1 in 3 parents may unnecessarily give children fever-reducing medicine (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Average body temperature has decreased over time


Improving flu forecasting with ‘smart thermometer’ data


Repeated febrile convulsions linked to epilepsy and psychiatric disorders — large Danish study


Doctors more likely to recommend antihistamines than cough and cold medicine for kids






MedicalBrief — our free weekly e-newsletter

We'd appreciate as much information as possible, however only an email address is required.