My Child’s Fever Hit 103 And This Is What I Did

When your child is down with high fever, the alarm bells in your head start ringing. But is it always a cause for concern? Let’s find out from a mother who shares her experience.

By Monali Bordoloi

My Child’s Fever Hit 103 And This Is What I Did
Don't rush to give fever medicine to lower your child's temperature 

(This is an experiential piece by a mother on how she dealt with her child’s fever. Read it and share your own experience of handling your child’s high fever.)

Ever since my daughter was born, I’ve been dreading the seasonal changes in weather – when the monsoon gives way to winter, and winter to spring. This is because, during these times, my little girl would fall sick invariably.

Well, it was sometime in January last year. My daughter was six years old then. I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about sicknesses, as her preschool days were behind us. But I was wrong in my assumptions.

It was a Thursday. I knew something was wrong when I noticed her tired, sunken eyes when she returned from school. I served her evening snacks – her favourite potato fritters. She said she was not hungry. She looked quite dull and slumped on the sofa, when I asked her to play with her dolls.

By late evening, she was feverish and stayed curled up in bed (on any other day, it would take a minimum of five reminders from me for her to go to bed even around 9:30 p.m. but not that day). I touched her forehead. It was warm. I checked her temperature using a digital thermometer. It was 99.4 °C. We finished our dinner and by 10:30 p.m. went to bed.

And, then it happened! I woke up startled to my little girl’s whimpers. I checked the time, it was 2:00 a.m. I touched her forehead. It was scorching hot. So, I quickly checked her temperature using the thermometer. When I saw the reading, I felt a shiver go down my spine. Her fever had shot up to 103°C! Yes, 103°C! I was alarmed.

I woke up my husband and told him about the situation and he began to panic. My husband and I usually have contradictory opinions when it come to handling illnesses. We had a heated conversation on whether we should have given our little girl fever medicine when she had only mild temperature in the evening. He felt that we should have given it to her, so that her temperature would not have shot up now. He was also worried that her high temperature might lead to brain damage and seizures. This thought led him to believe all the more firmly that we should have given the fever medicine in the evening itself. But I did not think so.

Panicking more, my husband suggested that we take her to the emergency room or at least reach out to her paediatrician for advice. I insisted that it was not necessary to do any of those things at that unearthly hour. Instead, I asked him to just stay calm and think of ways to reduce her discomfort. I told him we should first try to lower her temperature and that it was the right time then to give her the medicine.

Like I said before, we differed in our approach to handling our child’s fever. That evening, I chose not to give her the medicine as her temperature was less than 100 °C. Medicine should be ideally given only when the temperature crosses 100°C. I did not use medicine to lower her temperature unnecessarily as I remembered what my daughter’s paediatrician had once told me. She had advised me to use the fever medicine judiciously and not panic whenever my daughter fell ill. I also learnt from her that fever is good for children. Yes, you read it right! Fever is GOOD for your child and even doctors are saying so.

According to the paediatrician, a high temperature can be alarming, but in an otherwise healthy child, it isn't usually a cause for concern. Fever simply means that your body is fighting off an infection by increasing the temperature to hamper the growth of bacteria and viruses.

Her wise words stayed with me and some research online revealed this:

In a clinical report titled, ‘Fever and Antipyretic Use in Children’, published in 2011, in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP), authors Janice E Sullivan and Henry C Farrar state that many parents administer antipyretics (fever medicine) even when there is minimal or no fever, because they are concerned that the child must maintain a ‘normal’ temperature. They mention that the primary goal of treating fever should be to improve the child’s overall comfort and not reduce temperature. Also, they emphasise that ‘fever is not an illness but is, in fact, a physiologic mechanism that has beneficial effects in fighting infection.’ So, shouldn’t we give the body a chance to fight off the infection? The authors go on to say, “There is no evidence that children with fever, as opposed to hyperthermia, are at increased risk of adverse outcomes such as brain damage.” So, you see, my husband’s worry about the fever wasn’t valid. It is wrong to assume that fever that touches 103°C can lead to brain damage. In fact, most of the time, fever in children is caused by some infection and, therefore, not likely to lead to brain damage. Only temperatures that shoot above 106 °C can lead to brain damage.

This is what Dr Deepak Ugra, Consultant Pediatrician at Hinduja Healthcare, Mumbai, says about fever:

“Fever is a friend for the child and an enemy for the bug. If we allow the fever to persist, then it might even shorten the duration of the illness and won’t be harmful to the child. However, this depends on the comfort level of the child. Further, the treatment shouldn’t be directed towards the fever but towards the cause of the fever. Because suppressing the fever with fever medicine might make the infection linger on or even make it worse. However, during emergency situations that show symptoms of very high fever, listlessness and convulsions, there is no other option than to consult a doctor. Giving fever medicine and sponging the body of the child will help to stabilise the condition. I would also like to tell parents to avoid strong fever medicine at any cost. Paracetamol should be the choice of medicine to treat fever.

Further, febrile convulsions or fits due to brain damage have nothing to do with the degree of fever. They have something to do with the history of having convulsions before. Those who have a tendency for convulsions might get it even with 99°C body temperature. If you are not predisposed to it, even a child with 104°C temperature will not get convulsions.”

This is what we did:

So that night, when my daughter’s fever soared to 103°C, here is what we finally did:

  1. Gave her fever medicine to lower her temperature
  2. Composed myself and reassured my daughter calmly that she would be okay within a day or so and would be able to take part in the swimming competition next week
  3. Kept her hydrated and gave her Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) once; also prodded her to take a few sips of water in between
  4. Reduced her discomfort by giving her a sponge bath using lukewarm water
  5. Placed a damp washcloth (dipped in lukewarm water and wrung well) on her forehead to cool her body down
  6. Changed her into a fresh comfortable dress when she started perspiring; she didn’t want to go under the quilt and I was okay with that

Finally, my little girl dozed off. I saw my husband’s eyes closing too. I opened my eyes when I heard some birds chirping through the window. I must have dozed off too in the wee hours of the morning. I immediately touched my daughter’s forehead. The temperature had reduced. I heaved a sigh of relief seeing both my husband and daughter sleeping peacefully.

My little girl recovered quickly in a couple of days and participated in the swimming competition – something she had really wanted to. All was well again!

The article has been reviewed and validated by Dr Deepak Ugra, Consultant Pediatrician at Hinduja Healthcare, Mumbai.

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