High temperature (fever) in children
A high temperature is very common in young children. The temperature usually returns to normal within 3 or 4 days.
What is a high temperature?
A normal temperature in babies and children is about 36.4C, but this can vary slightly from child to child.
A high temperature is 38C or more.
A high temperature is the body's natural response to fighting infections like coughs and colds.
Many things can cause a high temperature in children, from common childhood illnesses like chickenpox and tonsillitis, to vaccinations.
Checking a high temperature
Your child might:
- feel hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest
- feel sweaty
- look or feel unwell
Use a digital thermometer, which you can buy from pharmacies and supermarkets, to take your child's temperature.
How to take your child's temperature
- Place the thermometer inside the top of the armpit.
- Gently close the arm over the thermometer and keep it pressed to the side of the body.
- Leave the thermometer in place for as long as it says in the instruction leaflet. Some digital thermometers beep when they're ready.
- Remove the thermometer. The display will show your child's temperature.
If your child's just had a bath or been wrapped in a blanket, their temperature may be higher for a short time. Wait a few minutes then try again.
What to do if your child has a high temperature
You can usually look after your child or baby at home. The temperature should go down over 3 or 4 days.
give them plenty of fluids
look out for signs of dehydration
give them food if they want it
check on your child regularly during the night
keep them at home
give them either paracetamol or ibuprofen if they're distressed or unwell – check the packaging or leaflet to make sure the medicine is suitable for your child, or speak to a pharmacist or doctor if you're not sure
get medical advice if you're worried about your child
try to keep your child at home and avoid contact with other people until they do not have a high temperature
do not undress your child or sponge them down to cool them, a high temperature is a natural and healthy response to infection
do not cover them up in too many clothes or bedclothes
do not give aspirin to children under 16 years of age
do not combine ibuprofen and paracetamol, unless it has been recommended by a doctor
do not give paracetamol to a child under 2 months
do not give ibuprofen to a child under 3 months or under 5kg
do not give ibuprofen to children with asthma or chickenpox, unless it has been recommended by a doctor
Read more about giving medicines to children
Urgent advice: Call 111 or your GP surgery now if your child:
- is under 3 months old and has a temperature of 38C or higher, or you think they have a high temperature
- is 3 to 6 months old and has a temperature of 39C or higher, or you think they have a high temperature
- has other signs of illness, such as a rash, as well as a high temperature
- has a high temperature that's lasted for 5 days or more
- does not want to eat, or is not their usual self and you're worried
- has a high temperature that does not come down with paracetamol
- is dehydrated – such as nappies that are not very wet, sunken eyes, and no tears when they're crying
Immediate action required: Call 999 if your child:
- has a stiff neck
- has a rash that does not fade when you press a glass against it (use the "glass test" from Meningitis Now)
- is bothered by light
- has a fit (febrile seizure) for the first time (they cannot stop shaking)
- has unusually cold hands and feet
- has blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
- has a weak, high-pitched cry that's not like their normal cry
- is drowsy and hard to wake
- is extremely agitated (does not stop crying) or is confused
- finds it hard to breathe and sucks their stomach in under their ribs
- is not responding like they normally do, or is not interested in feeding or normal activities
Page last reviewed: 21 December 2020
Next review due: 21 December 2023