Every parent is familiar with anxiety and uncertainty when their child develops a fever. During such times, questions and worries flood the mind – is there potential harm like brain damage or whether frequent fevers should be a cause for alarm.
Dr. Jasmine Ho, a Consultant at the Children’s Emergency in Khoo Teck Puat – National University Children's Medical Institute (KTP-NUCMI) at National University Hospital (NUH), clarifies that fever itself is not harmful. She explains, "Fever is one of the body’s ways of manifesting an infection or inflammation, often accompanying other symptoms of infection."
Typically, fevers in children range between 38 and 40 degrees Celsius that lasts for three to five days. Dr. Ho emphasises that the height of the fever doesn't necessarily indicate the severity of the illness; rather, it's crucial to observe the overall pattern of the fever and the child's behavior, including mood and energy levels. More importantly, sought medical attention immediately if breathlessness, dehydration, or lethargy are present.
Contrary to popular belief, fever itself doesn't lead to brain damage. However, Dr. Ho notes that high fevers in young children may be associated with febrile fits, also known as brief seizures usually resolve on their own without long-term effects on a child's growth or development.
Healthy children may experience up to two episodes of fever per month, particularly when exposed to common childhood illnesses, such as starting school or having older school-going siblings. However, not to worry, Dr Ho mentioned that the pattern of increased sickness when children begin school, will gradually improve when their immune system adapts to the school environment.
In more serious cases, a fever above 38 degrees Celsius in infants less than three months old is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention at the Children’s Emergency. Prolonged high fever of five days or more, especially if the child doesn't show improvement, may require further screening, such as blood tests and additional tests like urine screens, chest X-rays, or throat/respiratory swabs.
While a fever can be a sign of more serious conditions like cancer, autoimmune diseases, or immune system disorders, Dr. Ho assures that such underlying conditions typically manifest with other symptoms. These may include a pale appearance, weight loss, persistently swollen lymph nodes, and poor overall growth in cases of chronic underlying conditions, guiding doctors to conduct specific investigations if necessary.
Here's a simple infographic for reference when your child has a fever.