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Health & Wellness

Fever and pain in children

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As a parent, you’ve probably experienced that feeling of helplessness you get when your child is sick and you don’t know what’s wrong. If your child has no appetite, is cranky or has an unusual demeanour, he or she may have fever or pain. Here are a few tips to deal with this type of situation.

La fièvre et la douleur chez l’enfant

“Mom, Dad, I don’t feel so good…”

Putting your hand on your child’s forehead is a gesture that symbolizes all of your love and affection. But sometimes, it is an expression of something that most parents feel too often: worry. When you feel that something’s not right with your little one, it is normal to feel worried and to try to fix the situation as soon as possible.

Fever and pain are part of the common ailments that target children. They are not dangerous for their health; they are simply signals sent by the body to let you know that something is amiss.

When the temperature rises

Fever is a normal defense mechanism that allows the body to fight viral and bacterial infection. In general, it disappears within less than 72 hours.

In addition to observing a rise in temperature on the thermometer, you may see the following signs indicating that your child has fever:

  • the child refuses to eat;
  • the child is not sleeping well;
  • the child cries or is cranky;
  • the child is turning red;
  • the child has chills;
  • the child feels warmer than usual.

The only valid way to confirm that a child has fever is to take his or her temperature with a thermometer.

How to take a child’s temperature

Here is a chart indicating normal temperature levels, according to the method chosen:

Body part

Range of normal temperature

Rectum

36.6˚C to 38.4˚C (97.9˚F to 101.1˚F)

Mouth

35.5˚C to 37.9˚C (95.9˚F to 100.2˚F)

Ear

35.8˚C to 38.0˚C (96.4˚F to 100.4˚F)

Armpit

34.7˚C to 37.4˚C (94.5˚F to 99.3˚F)

If your child’s temperature is higher than the levels listed in the above chart, he or she has fever.

Here are a few things to know about the different ways to take a child’s temperature:

  • Rectum: The most reliable way for children under the age of 2.
  • Mouth: Only suitable for children over the age of 5.
  • Armpit: Although it is more convenient for some children, this method is considered less reliable and less accurate.
  • Ear: Although it is quick and simple, it is not the best way in children because it is not very accurate.

For children between the ages of 2 and 5, the rectum is the best place to take temperature. You can alternate with the ear or armpit methods.

In all cases, mercury thermometers are no longer recommended; the substance would be toxic if the thermometer were to break. Digital thermometers with flexible, unbreakable tips are the best choice.

What to do in case of fever

  • Maintain a comfortable temperature in the home, between 18˚C and 21˚C.
  • Dress the child lightly, but don’t undress him or her completely.
  • Have the child drink frequently (water, juice or milk) to maintain proper hydration.
  • Don’t give the child a cold bath or an “alcohol rub.”
  • To lower fever, give the child over-the-counter medication that contains acetaminophen or ibuprofen. To find out the exact dose to give according to the child’s weight, consult your pharmacist. You should also ask which of these medications is best suited to your child and to the situation.

When a child is in pain

Headache, toothache, earache, sore throat… inevitably, all children will, at one moment or another, get that “ouchie” feeling. A young child may have a hard time expressing that he or she is in pain, telling where it hurts or describing the pain’s intensity. Aside from tears, these are many of the signs that can suggest a child is in pain:

  • the child makes faces or frowns;
  • the child refuses to be held or touched;
  • the child refuses to eat;
  • the child is not sleeping well;
  • the child is cranky, irritable or aggressive;
  • the child tenses or stiffens;
  • the child doesn’t move or refuses to play;
  • the child is always touching his or her ears.

Pain often indicates a recent injury or illness, such as an infection. A throat or ear infection can be particularly painful and often requires a medical consultation.

What to do for pain

  • First, try to find out where the child is hurting.
  • Comfort and try to distract him or her.
  • Rub or massage the painful area if that seems to make the child feel better.
  • Change the child’s position; some positions can sometimes be more comfortable.
  • Apply heat or cold on the painful area when appropriate, and if that relieves the child.
  • Pain-relief methods are often similar to those used for fever. Over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are often very helpful. For an optimal effect, make sure you give the right dose, after having checked with your pharmacist first. He or she may have more advice to give you, or other medication to recommend. For example, if your child has a toothache, your pharmacist may suggest applying topical medication (to rub on the gums).

Your pharmacist can make all the difference when it comes to taking care of your child’s pain, so don’t hesitate to ask. He or she can also advise you on whether you should seek a doctor’s opinion. 

When to see the doctor

When nothing seems to be going right, it is often best to see a doctor. For instance, when:

  • the child is less than 3 months old and has a rectal temperature ≥38 ˚C;
  • the child is aged between 3 and 6 months and has a rectal temperature ≥39 ˚C;
  • the child (any age) has a high fever;
  • fever and/or pain persist for over 72 hours;
  • the child presents other unusual symptoms, such as vomiting, wheezing, redness, rash, etc.;
  • the child had a seizure.

Moms have a sixth sense that is known as maternal instinct. And to be fair, dads can also trust that little voice in their head, the one that rings the alarm when something doesn’t feel right. It is a precious tool when it comes to deciding when to see a doctor; trust your judgement and remember that it is better to seek medical advice sooner than later.

When pain and fever put a cloud over your day, it is comforting to know that you can count on your pharmacist. For little “ouchies” and big booboos, your pharmacist will use all of his or her superpowers to zero in on the right solution for your child’s situation.

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