Treating Fevers at Home: What Every Parent Should Know

This is an article discussing the causes of fever in children, taking an accurate temperature, various types of thermometers, accompanying symptoms, home interventions, and when to seek medical care.


Fever is one of the most common ailments among children, and parents are often uncertain about how they should treat it safely. Fortunately, several effective home treatments can help your child feel better without a visit to the emergency room. This article will provide tips for recognizing and treating fever in your child from the comfort of your home.

Causes of Fever in Children

Many factors can cause fevers, from viral or bacterial infections to allergies and other medical conditions. Understanding the causes of fever in children can help you determine how to treat a fever in your child and when it is necessary to seek medical attention.

Infections are the most frequent cause of fever in kids, with viruses such as the flu, RSV, COVID-19, and roseola being some of the usual suspects. Bacterial infections, including strep throat, ear infections, and urinary tract infections, can also cause fevers in children. Allergies may also be responsible for a fever when accompanied by other symptoms, such as sneezing or a runny nose. Certain medications, including some antibiotics, can also raise temperature due to their effect on the body's immune system. Some immunizations may cause a fever. If your child has an increased temperature after getting vaccinated, the fever will usually appear within 12 hours of receiving the vaccine, and it will likely resolve within one to two days.

Taking Your Child's Temperature

Getting an accurate temperature is the first step toward adequately assessing and treating a fever in your child. It is essential to use the correct technique when taking a temperature so it is accurate. Whether you choose an oral thermometer, ear thermometer, forehead thermometer, or rectal thermometer, following these simple steps will help you precisely assess your child's temperature. 

Most medical professionals consider rectal temperatures to be the most accurate, followed by temperatures taken on the forehead. If done correctly, oral and ear temperatures are also accurate. Temperatures taken in the armpit are generally the least accurate. For this article, we will assume you have a digital thermometer. Still, you can use either a manual oral or a manual rectal thermometer similarly. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Rectal Temperature: 

A temperature taken internally in your child's rectum is called a rectal temperature. You will take a rectal temperature just inside the anus. To get a rectal reading, use petroleum jelly to lubricate the thermometer's tip before inserting it into the rectum. Place your child on their back with their legs near their head, or if it is more comfortable, place them on their tummy and place your hand on their back to help hold them still. While holding your child still with one hand, insert the tip of the thermometer into the rectum and hold it firmly with your other hand until the reading is complete. You only need to insert the tip about 1/2 inch into the rectum for infants. Extend the tip up to one inch inside the rectum for toddlers and older children.

Forehead Temperature: 

For a forehead, or temporal reading, glide the thermometer gently across your child's forehead and view the reading immediately.

Ear Temperature: 

If using an ear thermometer, otherwise known as a tympanic thermometer, insert it all the way into the ear canal and follow the manufacturer's instructions to get a reading. Some thermometers require you to press a button to get a reading, while others are automatic. Use a new plastic shield for each reading and discard it afterward.

Oral Temperature: 

Taking the temperature under the tongue is also known as taking an oral temperature. To take an oral temperature, be sure your child has consumed no cold or hot drinks recently, as this may alter your results. Place the end of the thermometer under your child's tongue and angle it toward the back of the mouth, keeping it under the tongue. Ask them to keep their lips closed gently until you get a reading. Oral temperatures work best if your child is age three or above and can follow directions.

Armpit Temperature: 

You can use a regular oral thermometer to get this reading. Using it in your child's armpit is called taking an axillary temperature. Start by placing the thermometer in your child's armpit and be sure it has contact with the skin surrounding the tip. Try hugging or holding your child closely while you wait for the reading so the thermometer remains in place. Wait until the thermometer signals and assess your reading. 

Signs & Symptoms

When dealing with a fever in your child, it is important to recognize any other signs and symptoms that may accompany it. Here's what parents should watch for:

  • Doctors define a fever as a temperature of 100.4° F or higher.
  • Other signs of a fever may include chills, shivering, sweating, headache, loss of appetite, fatigue, and muscle aches.
  • A red, flushed face may also be present due to increased blood flow to the skin caused by a rise in body temperature.
  • Children with a fever often seem more fussy or fatigued than usual due to discomfort from their symptoms.

Home Treatment

The first step in treating your child's fever is determining its cause. If you suspect it is related to a bacterial infection or a virus and home remedies are not working to bring it down, consider checking with your child's pediatrician about any necessary treatments, depending on your child's age and health history. 

Providing your child with plenty of fluids can go a long way toward reducing a fever. Be sure to increase fluids any time your child is running a fever.

Lukewarm showers, baths, or sponge baths can help bring a fever down quickly. Do not use cold or icy water. Bathe your child for at least 20 to 30 minutes, but stop if they begin to shiver. The temperature generally decreases as the water evaporates from your child's body.

When your child has a fever, have them wear only one light layer of clothing and use one lightweight blanket while sleeping. Do not bundle them up when they have a fever, as this can increase their body temperature. 

Use fever medication only if your child's fever is 102° F or higher or your child expresses discomfort. Children over three months of age may have Tylenol, and children over six months of age may have Ibuprofen or Tylenol. See the package label or speak with your healthcare practitioner for dosage information. Never give both medications or alternate them unless instructed to do so by a health care provider. Please do not medicate your child if your doctor has advised you to avoid giving them these medications.

Remember that fevers can actually be beneficial in fighting an illness or infection. Many viruses and bacteria can flourish at normal body temperatures, but these organisms can often be destroyed when the body temperature rises just a few degrees. When your child has a fever, it often means that their body is working to fight off an illness or infection. The body will raise its temperature to help accomplish this, which increases the performance of your child's immune cells. The trick is to treat fevers with plenty of fluids and rest so the temperature does not become dangerously high. 

When to Seek Medical Care

As a parent, you need to know when your child requires medical attention. Although a fever is a typical symptom of an infection, it is usually safe to treat at home. However, there are times when you will need to seek the professional help of your child's doctor. 

Contact your child's doctor right away if: 

  • Your child is younger than three months of age and has a fever of 100.4° F or higher.
  • Your child seems very ill, lethargic, difficult to awaken, or difficult to console.
  • Your child has a fever and has pain or stiffness in the neck, a severe headache, severe ear or throat pain, an unexplained rash, difficulty breathing, painful urination, or multiple episodes of vomiting or diarrhea. 
  • Your child shows any seizure activity.
  • Your child has a fever and has been exposed to very high heat outside or in a hot car.
  • Your child has a fever, and you cannot decrease it using home treatments.
  • Your child has a severe chronic illness such as cancer or they are taking medications that could affect their immune system.
  • Your child is under age two and has had a fever of 100.4° F for over 24 hours.
  • Your child has a fever lasting over three days and is age two or older. 
  • Your child's fever repeatedly reads 104° F or higher, regardless of age.

Trust your instincts as a parent and seek medical guidance if you feel concerned about your child's health, no matter how mild the symptoms may appear at first glance.

If you suspect a fever in your child, the best course of action is to take their temperature and be aware of any changes in their symptoms. Carefully note their temperature and your interventions so you can report this information to other caregivers or your child's doctor if needed. Fevers can be frightening for parents, but as long as you are aware of your options and follow safety measures, you can ensure that your child will receive the proper treatment. 

Prevention is key. Focusing on and sustaining regular health, nutrition, and safety practices will help you protect your family members against illness. When in doubt, it's always best to consult a medical professional if you believe your child needs additional care. 


Fever and Antipyretic Use in Children: American Academy of Pediatrics

Fever Literacy and Fever Phobia: SAGE Publications

Fever Phobia-Misconceptions of Parents About Fevers: American Medical Association: JAMA Network

Physiological Rationale for Suppression of Fever: Oxford University Press

Patient education: Fever in children (Beyond the Basics): UpToDate, Inc.

Sandy Grimm, BSN, BA, RN, is a healthcare journalist and content marketing writer who produces health and wellness, fitness, nutrition, mental health, and healthcare engagement content.

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Home Health Columnist / Guide


11 Articles; 17,707 Posts

Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion. Has 46 years experience.

Good article.

Many parents don't understand  what difficulty breathing means.  Better to list high-pitched whistling sound  =wheezing, nostrils flaring in and out with each breath = nasal flaring, chest skin pulling in and out between each rib with each breath = intercostal retracting, or Blue/Gray skin color to face or chest =  central cyanoais --- all signs to call 911 immediately.

Sandy G, BSN, RN

2 Articles; 10 Posts

Specializes in Neurosurgery, Pediatric Transplant, OB.

Important info for parents to know. Thanks for sharing!