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.
Should I give my child painkillers for their fever?
People often want to give their child medicine, such a 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 and 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.
Too much paracetamol can be dangerous
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:
|Your child’s weight||120mg per 5mL||250mg per 5mL|
|5kg or less||Ask doctor||Ask doctor|
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: https://www.kidshealth.org.nz/paracetamol
An online calculator to work out the right dose can be found:
Does a fever mean my child needs antibiotics?
A fever does not mean your child needs antibiotics.
For these reasons, antibiotics shouldn’t be given unless your child has a bacterial infection.
Does treating a fever reduce the risk of seizures?
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.
When should I take my child to the doctor?
Check with your doctor or phone Healthline on 0800 611 116 if you are worried.
For more information about fever in children, visit https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/health-a-z/f/fever-children/ or https://www.kidshealth.org.nz/fever
Why was this resource developed?
This Choosing Wisely resource is based on the top five low-value practices that, based on clinical evidence, may have limited benefit, no benefit or may potentially cause harm to patients, according to the Paediatrics & Child Health Division of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and the Australian College of Nursing.
Choosing Wisely is a campaign to help health professionals and patients engage in conversations about unnecessary tests and treatments and make smart and effective choices to ensure high quality care.
Supporting evidence for the issues discussed in this resource
For a list of supporting evidence for the issues discussed in this resource, please see:
It’s OK to ask questions
If you have questions about your symptoms or the medicines managing your symptoms, speak with your health professional.
Developed by Choosing Wisely New Zealand, 2018. Reasonable care is taken to provide accurate information at the time of creation. This information is not intended as a substitute for medical advice and should not be exclusively relied on to manage or diagnose a medical condition. 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.
Last updated 20 January 2019