Word of the fortnight: Pyrexia

Probably the commonest reason I see children in the surgery is due to high temperatures, and PYREXIA is the medical term for a temperature or fever.
The question I’m most frequently asked by parents is: When do I need to worry about a temperature?

Medically we define a temperature as being anything over 37.5oC (or 99.5F if you are that way inclined). Most parents become increasingly concerned about their child as the temperature rises, yet doctors place far less emphasis on the actual number the temperature reaches. As a general rule it is only in babes where the value of the temperature is of real significance. In babies less than 6 months old, temperatures over 39oC (or over 38oC in under 3 month olds) may be related to more serious infections. But otherwise, in older children the level of temperature doesn’t appear to correlate to the seriousness of the infection. Temperatures above 41.5oC are extremely rare and are usually due to a problem with the body’s own temperature self-regulation, rather than an infection.

Rather than relying solely on temperature, Doctors are far more concerned about other features which can suggest more a more serious underlying illness or infection. When examining your child the Doctor will check heart and breathing rate, as well as looking for any signs of dehydration or issues with circulation. All of these factors are immensely useful in establishing whether you child has a serious infection that requires antibiotics or even a visit to hospital, or something more minor.

I’m sure you are all very aware of liquid paracetamol (which I’ve already waxed lyrical about in more than one previous post!) and no doubt have a bottle or two in a cupboard somewhere. Current advice to parents with a hot and feverish child is to use paracetamol or ibuprofen on a regular basis to control the temperature. If this isn’t sufficient, it is entirely appropriate to give both medicines alternately over the course of the day – this can help regulate temperature more evenly and avoid ‘spikes’ of high temperatures whilst you are waiting to give the next dose. Fluids are also really important so don’t forget to offer them lots to drink (or bottles/breast milk as appropriate).

There is good current advice for parents from the NHS website regarding caring for a child with a temperature, whichcalopol is worth a peek.

My extra top tips would be:
• Don’t worry too much about the exact level of temperature in you child, unless they are under 1 year old.
• Offer lots of regular fluids
• Give paracetamol and/or ibuprofen regularly
• If the temperature fails to settle following both of the above, seek medical advice
• See your doctor promptly if you are concerned about your child’s overall health or they have been unwell for more than 5 days
• Invest in a good reliable thermometer


One response

  1. I recommend digital tympanic thermometer as easy to use and accurate. You have to shell out £30 but worth every penny as you know reading is accurate


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