A fever can occur in toddlers for a variety of reasons. While not all fevers are serious, certain conditions that cause high temperatures in toddlers need urgent medical attention.

A caregiver taking the temperature of a toddler with a fever.Share on Pinterest
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A fever usually means that a child’s body is fighting off an infection. However, there are symptoms a person should look for when a toddler has a fever.

Read on to learn when a toddler with a fever needs urgent medical attention, as well as treatments and potential causes.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child’s normal body temperature should be between 97ºF (36ºC) and 100.4ºF (38ºC).

Children and babies can have higher temperatures than adults, as they have a larger surface area compared to their body weight. Toddlers also sweat less and have a faster metabolism, which can cause them to have a higher body temperature.

According to a 2019 article, a fever alone is rarely harmful and does not typically exceed 105.8ºF (41ºC). While fevers higher than this temperature can be dangerous, they are rare.

Febrile seizures

A febrile seizure is a seizure that occurs when a toddler has a fever. Although they may seem alarming, they are not dangerous and typically last a few minutes.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke notes that these types of seizures occur in 2⁠–5% of children below 5 years old.

Symptoms of a febrile seizure include:

  • loss of consciousness
  • uncontrollable shaking of legs and arms
  • eye rolling
  • stiff limbs
  • twitching in one area of the body

If a toddler’s febrile seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, or the child does not seem to be getting better, seek immediate medical attention.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends contacting a doctor if a toddler experiences a fever of 102ºF (38.8ºC) or more.

A parent of caregiver should also contact a doctor if the toddler has:

  • other signs of illness, such as rash
  • a fever that lasts for 5 days or more
  • a fever that does not reduce with acetaminophen
  • a cough that lasts for more than 3 weeks
  • persistent ear pain
  • signs of dehydration

Learn more about signs of dehydration in toddlers.

A review from 2019 noted that only 1 in 100 children with a fever will require urgent medical attention. However, an individual should seek urgent care if the toddler experiences:

  • difficulty breathing, including nostrils widening with each breath
  • wheezing
  • fast breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • ribs showing with each breath
  • excessive crankiness or sleepiness
  • symptoms seeming to be getting worse
  • excessive crying
  • fever that comes and goes
  • blue or grey lips

Additionally, meningitis is a serious condition that can cause fever in toddlers. A person should take the child to the emergency room immediately if they experience fever along with any of the following symptoms:

  • headache
  • stiff neck
  • dislike of bright lights
  • sleepiness
  • trouble waking up
  • nausea
  • irritability
  • vomiting
  • lack of appetite
  • lack of energy
  • a rash that does not fade under pressure — use a glass to test for this

A caregiver does not always need to reduce a fever. A fever lower than 101ºF (38ºC) does not require treatment unless the toddler is uncomfortable.

Fever occurs due to the body reacting to contracting a viral or bacterial infection. Bacteria and viruses can thrive at the body’s normal temperature — by increasing its internal temperature, the body can help kill the infection.

While certain drugs can help lower a child’s fever, they do not treat its underlying cause.

To help make the toddler feel more comfortable, a person can:

  • ensure the child drinks plenty of water
  • put cool, damp cloths on the foreheads, wrists, and calves
  • dress them in loose, light clothes
  • give them medication, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol

When giving a toddler medication to treat their fever, a person should ensure they give the correct dose. The FDA recommends that an individual speaks with a doctor before giving medication to a toddler below the age of 2 years.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital says that a person can also give the child a sponge bath if they have a fever over 104ºF (40ºC) and are vomiting and unable to keep the medicine down. To do this, a caregiver should place the child in a bath with lukewarm water of approximately 85–90ºF (29–32ºC) and sponge the water over the skin.

If the child is unable to sit in the bath, a person can lay a lukewarm, wet washcloth:

  • on the stomach
  • on the groin
  • under the armpits
  • behind the neck

Parents and caregivers should be aware of the following when treating a toddler’s fever:

  • do not rub a toddler down with alcohol, as the skin may absorb it, leading to coma
  • do not put a toddler in a cold or ice bath, as this can cause shivering and increase their temperature
  • do not undress the toddler
  • do not delay seeking medical attention for a toddler who appears very ill
  • do not give a toddler any medication not meant for a child

A person should also avoid giving aspirin to children as this can increase the chance of developing Reye’s syndrome.

A person can take a child’s temperature in a variety of ways, including:

  • Forehead temperature: Although this is appropriate for children of any age, using it in direct sunlight can affect temperature readings.
  • Mouth temperature: This is suitable for those above the age of 4 years. A person places the tip of the thermometer under the tongue and waits until they hear a beep. To get an accurate reading, individuals should wait for 30 minutes after the child has had anything hot or cold to drink.
  • Ear temperature: This is appropriate for those older than 6 months. When using an ear thermometer, aim the tip slightly diagonally toward the face.

A person should take the child’s temperature three times a day, if possible.

There are many reasons why a toddler might have a fever. Possible causes include illness due to viruses or bacteria, such as:

Other causes include:

  • having a vaccination
  • sunburn
  • dehydration

There are many reasons why a toddler might have a fever. This symptom is a byproduct of a child healing from acquiring an infection, and it does not necessarily need treating. However, a caregiver can provide home care to help the infant feel more comfortable.

Seek medical help if a toddler has a fever of 102ºF (38.8ºC) or more.

Many conditions can lead to a toddler experiencing a fever. If a parent or caregiver has concerns about the toddler’s temperature, they should speak with a doctor.