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Temperature rising

Find out if your toddler is running a fever – and how to treat it – with these expert tips.

Is it a fever?

The kiss test is not a reliable tool for determining whether your baby has a fever. Use a thermometer to measure his temperature if he’s unwell, says Cynthia Cupido, a critical care physician at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont. A rectal thermometer is probably your best bet, since most types can also be used under the arm.

And there’s no need to squint anymore — for easy-to-read results, you can’t beat the relatively inexpensive digital models now available. (The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends using a non-mercury thermometer, since the metal does pose a small risk to children if the instrument breaks.)

Tympanic (ear) thermometers also offer the advantage of speed, which is particularly useful if your little one is crying or fidgety. On the down side, a good-quality tympanic thermometer is much more expensive than a reliable rectal model.

Your child has a fever if:

• the rectal temperature is 38.5°C (101.3°F) or higher

• the oral, ear, or underarm temperature is 38°C (100.4°F) or higher

Contact a physician if your child:

• is excessively fussy or irritable

• is unresponsive or very lethargic

• is under three-months old and has a fever

• has a fever greater than 39°C (102°F) with a change in behaviour (such as irritability or lethargy)

• has a fever plus a rash, or other worrisome symptoms

• has problems breathing

• has a fever for more than three days

• has a stiff neck

• has a convulsion

Treating a Fever

If your toddler is cranky, crying inconsolably, or is listless, treating the fever may make her feel more comfortable. Even though a fever revs up the immune system, it’s OK to use an appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen (ask your pharmacist for information on the appropriate dosage) to turn down the temperature and relieve the chills and other miserable symptoms that accompany fever, says Ottawa paediatrician William James. (This applies as long as your baby is older than six months – if your baby is younger, check with your doctor.) Often this simple strategy will perk your toddler up and might also make her more apt to keep drinking, which means she’ll also get better more quickly. You can also try old-fashioned comfort measures, such as cool cloths on the forehead, books, stickers, freeze pops and a favourite juice.