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Feverish Child – What To Do?

First. Don’t panic.

The first time that my daughter had a high temperature, she was only 12 weeks old. We hotfooted it to A&E as it was clear that she was quite ill, she was breathing erratically and burning hot. The nurse took her temperature, and gave me a bollocking for not giving my daughter paracetamol to bring the fever down. It was my first child, I did not even have medicines at home – no one had thought to tell me that this would be a good idea. It turned out that she has a nasty urinary infection and she was admitted to hospital for a course of antibiotics.

Thankfully, the nurses on the ward were friendlier than the battleaxe from A&E and gave me great tips on handling a child with fever. In Germany, it is recommended that you don’t give paracetemol for slightly elevated temperature, unless the child is in pain or uncomfortable. The nurse explained that the fever is the body’s way of dealing with the infection and it is fine to leave the child to “burn” the infection off.

There are of course limits to this – when the temperature goes over a certain limit then it is time to reach for that Calpol bottle. And there are exceptions to this – some children are prone to febrile fits – but this is due to the temperature spiking up, not the actual fever itself. If in doubt, have a chat with your GP.

Recent articles about the dangers of overmedicating children has causes quite a stir amongst young parents. Many are being told by their parents/friends/relatives/neighbours that Calpol is dangerous, causes asthma. We are used to everyone and his aunt having an opinion on what we are doing wrong with our children, but this one causes upset as it is based on the reporting of a US based study.

This article stated that parents are giving paracetemols and ibuprofen (so called anti-pyretics) too often and in wrong doses. If you read to the end of the article, which is mainly about the US study that published these findings, you will find a statement from Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of UK Royal College of GPs, saying that she does not think that UK GPs overprescribe anti-pyretics or that parents give them too easily or in wrong doses, saying, “In my experience of 20 years as a GP, parents are usually pretty careful”

It is a shame that articles like this make young parents feel less sure of themselves when they have an ill child. There are often threads on parenting websites asking for advice on whether to give anti-pyretics, sometimes when the child does not even have a high temperature.

When this happens, the first advice I give is to look at the NICE guidelines, that I found on this blog. Read up more on the NICE guidelines here (PDF). Print this out and pop it into your first aid box so that you always have it to hand.

If in doubt, don’t faff about  – phone your GP or NHS24 and ask for advice. Don’t worry about going to the doc unnecessarily. My paediatrician said that he would rather see a child too often than once too late.