Pain and fever in young children

Pain and fever medication can be safely given from three months.
Pain and fever medication can be safely given from three months. 

What is fever?
A fever is a higher than normal body temperature. It's usually a symptom of an infection or illness such as a cold or flu.

When measured by a thermometer under the tongue or arm, a child's temperature is usually between 36.6°C and 37.3°C. A child's fever is usually measured at over 37.5°C.

When suffering from a fever, children usually show signs of illness such as sleepiness and a poor appetite. Look for a hot face or forehead, and a body that feels hot or shivery.

A fever is the body's way of responding to infection or illness, and children with fever often feel quite miserable. Reducing a fever can help reduce their stress.

Fever has a number of potential causes, the most common of which are:

  • infections of the upper respiratory tract, such as colds and flu
  • prolonged exposure to the sun on a hot day.

How do you recognise pain and fever?
Children aged over three years can usually talk about their pain symptoms, although it pays to observe children of this age as well for signs of pain, such as grimacing or touching the sore spot. In newborn babies and infants it's a more difficult task.

There are some similarities between the signs and symptoms of pain and fever, as you can see in the table below. However, those associated with fever may be more subtle - the younger the child, the more subtle the symptoms can be.

Symptoms of pain
Your child might be in pain if you see the following: 

  • screwing up of eyes
  • nasal flaring
  • grimacing
  • increased heart rate
  • breathing rapidly
  • sweating
  • flushing
  • pallor
  • crying
  • finger clenching, thrashing of limbs, arching of back, head banging.

Symptoms of fever
Your child might have a fever if you notice the following:

  • pallor
  • poor appetite/not feeding normally
  • irritability
  • fussiness
  • rapid breathing
  • quietness
  • hot to touch
  • crying
  • lethargic.