Health

Toddler Fever Chart: What’s Too High & Danger Signs To Know?

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toddler fever chart

 

Overview

A fever can be scary, especially when your kids are still young. But it’s not always something to be afraid of.

Fever is NOT an illness. It’s a sign of one.

According to Two Peds In A Pod, a blog by pediatricians Dr. Julie Kardos and Dr. Naline Lai: (1)

Fever is a sign of illness. Your body makes a fever in effort to heat up and kill germs without harming your body.

Moms fear fever in children the most, explains Dr. Aviva Romm, a doctor, herbalist, and midwife. Yet most fevers are beneficial and don’t cause brain damage (as some myths claim). (2)

Fevers don’t cause seizures (except the generally harmless febrile seizures), nor do they always require treatment. (2)

Your child generally has a fever if they have a temperature of at least 100.4°F (38°C). (3)

There are dozens of reasons why children (and adults) develop a fever. Most are caused by self-limiting viral infections that don’t require treatment. However, about 90% or more of kids’ serious bacterial infections may be due to urinary tract infections. (4)

So, how can you tell if your child has a fever (besides having a high temperature) and which thermometer is ideal? What are the other possible causes of child fever, and when should you call your doctor? 

Is there a danger zone for fever? What can you do to reduce your child’s temperature at home? 

We’ll provide you with the only toddler fever chart you’ll ever need to reference for your peace of mind. You can save our article or screenshot it and save it on your phone for a guide whenever you need it.

We’ll also provide you with evidence-based and research-driven information that can help you better understand when you can give your toddler medicine and discuss what can happen if your child’s fever doesn’t go down.

Note, however, that our article isn’t a substitute for your pediatrician’s medical advice. Call your doctor or rush your child to the nearest emergency department if you think they have a dangerously high fever or serious illness.

 

Baby & Toddler Fever Chart

Here’s a guide on what readings are considered normal temperatures or a fever and what you should do next, depending on your child’s age: (3)(4)(5)

The ideal temperature-taking methods can vary, depending on your child’s age and specific situation. For example, kids with cancer or other serious ailments might need a different approach than other children. Clinical trials are currently being done for wearable devices that constantly monitor their core temperature. (6)(7)

However, the methods recommended in the table above apply to most kids in regular circumstances. 

Also, digital thermometers are recommended for fast, safe, and relatively accurate temperature readings for babies or older children. All you have to do is wait for the beep. Unlike in older products (e.g., mercury or alcohol thermometers), there’s no need to guess or estimate when the reading is ready. 

 

Things To Know About Baby & Toddler Fever

What’s The Normal Body Temperature For Toddlers & Babies?

The normal temperature for most kids is around 98.6°F (37°C). (5)

However, every child or person has a slightly different core temperature. Sometimes, their temperature appears high because they’re too bundled up or the weather is too hot, but they don’t have a fever. (5)

If your child feels hot to the touch, check for other signs, such as irritability or tiredness, indicating they might be sick. (5)

 

How High A Fever Is Normal For Toddlers?

Temperatures of at least 100.4°F (38°C) are considered a fever. Your toddler might begin to feel uncomfortable if their temperature reaches 101.5°F (38.6°C). (3)(4)(8)

A reading up to 101°F (38°C) is still considered a low-grade fever and isn’t likely to require medications. (8)

However, “high” is relative when it comes to fevers. (3)(4)(8)

A fever is a possible sign of infection or other medical conditions. So, neonates and babies up to three months old may need close medical supervision even if their temperature is just slightly above 100.4°F (38°C). This temperature is already “high” for the age group because their immune system is still developing and is weaker. (3)(4)

The guideline isn’t as strict as that for toddlers. Temperatures around 100.4°F (38°C) aren’t considered “high” but can be a cause for concern if they persist for: (3)(4)

  • More than one day for toddlers up to two years old
  • More than three days for two toddlers who are 2+ years old

 

How To Assess Your Child’s Fever Severity

Children with a fever can become more uncomfortable as their temperature increases. Although a higher temperature doesn’t necessarily mean your child is seriously sick, it’s still important to know when to call a doctor or take your child to the ER.

 

Consider Your Child’s Age

Fever (100.4°F or 38 °C) in newborns and babies younger than three months old can be serious. It may be a sign of a dangerous infection or underlying medical condition. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends immediately seeking medical attention or calling your child’s healthcare provider. (3)

A 2021 Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America Journal study recommends hospital admission for neonates (newborns up to one month old) with a fever. (4)

The study also recommends risk assessment for babies who are two months old: (4)

  • High-risk babies might need hospital admission
  • Low-risk babies can go home but might require close medical attention or follow-up

 

What Temp Is Too High For A Toddler?

Temperatures that are as high as 104°F (40°C) can be a cause for concern for toddlers or kids of any age. This is especially worrisome if the fever persists for days. Call your doctor as soon as possible. (3)(4)

 

Seeking Help For A Fever

When To Rush A Baby Or Toddler To The ER For A Fever

Dangerously High Temperatures

Fevers higher than 104°F (40°C) can be dangerous. They’re more likely to cause febrile seizures. (3)(4)(8)

Take your child to the ER:

  • Immediately, if they’re younger than six months old
  • Immediately or after a day of high fever for 6+ months old

 

Your Child’s Behavior & Other Symptoms: What Is The Danger Zone For A Fever?

A temperature reading isn’t the single determiner for a serious fever in toddlers. Sometimes, these young kids remain active and “fine” despite temperatures as high as 104°F (40°C). (3)(4)(8)

Still, this temperature is already “too high.” It can be dangerous, especially if your child experiences other symptoms such as the following: (3)(4)(8)

  • Signs of dehydration (trouble and/or pain in urinating)
  • Swollen joints
  • Stiff neck
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sore throat
  • Severe stomach ache
  • Persistent headache
  • Earache
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Refusal to drink any fluids
  • Dark or purplish rashes that don’t go away even if you press on them
  • Pain in a certain area (localized pain)

 

When To Call Your Child’s Doctor For A Fever

Call your child’s healthcare provider immediately for the following symptoms based on your child’s age: (3)

 

Newborn To One Month Old
  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) and/or higher
  • Persistent crying or fussiness (can’t be soothed)
  • 104°F (40°C) or higher, especially if it persists for days

 

Babies (1-3 Months Old)
  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) and/or higher
  • Persistent crying or fussiness (can’t be soothed)
  • 104°F (40°C) or higher, especially if it persists for days

 

Babies & Toddlers (3+ Months Old)
  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) for more than one day
  • 104°F (40°C) or higher, especially if it persists for days

 

Older Kid (2+ Years Old)
  • 100.4°F (38°C) for more than three days
  • 104°F (40°C) or higher, especially if it persists for days

 

Serious Fever Situations (Regardless Of Age): Call Your Child’s Doctor Immediately 

Seek medical assistance or call your health provider right away if: (3)

  • The fever doesn’t respond to medication
  • Repeated fevers 104°F (40°C) or more
  • Persistent fever for 5+ days
  • Your gut feeling tells you something is wrong
  • Fever accompanied by other symptoms

 

When To Take A Child To Urgent Care For A Fever

Take your child to urgent care if symptoms require seeing a doctor but you can’t reach your pediatrician (or it’s outside their clinic hours). 

 

Reasons Why Kids Have A Fever

Having a fever is a sign that your child’s immune system is trying to fight infection, illness, intruder, malignancy, etc. (see below) (3)(8)

 

Infections & Other Ailments

When your child has an infectious disease, their body temperature increases because of the following reasons: (3)(8)

  • It signals the body’s defense system to send “fighter” cells (e.g., white blood cells) and chemicals (e.g., cytokines) to fight the infection or illness.
  • It also makes the immune system create antibodies that can recognize and fight the pathogens that caused the illness the next time they attack the body.
  • It makes the body create macrophages (cells that “eat up” the intruders).
  • The brain is stimulated to raise the body’s temperature due to toxins released by bacteria when their protective membrane becomes broken (such as when the body’s immune system attacks them).

 

Chronic Ailments & Other Conditions

Sometimes, the immune system mistakenly attacks certain body parts or systems, leading to autoimmune diseases. (3)

The same may happen with chronic ailments or the following conditions: (3)

  • Disorders affecting the brain 
  • Some forms of cancer

 

Side Effects of Immunizations, Medical Procedures, Or Medications

The immune system can also trigger a fever in reaction to an intrusion or “foreign body” from: (3)(8)

  • Immunizations
  • Certain medicines
  • Certain medical procedures, such as a blood transfusion or organ transplant

 

Overheating From Being Overdressed Or Heat Stroke

Your child’s body can also have elevated temperatures due to the following: (3)

  • Over bundling or being overdressed (such as wearing thick clothes even on hot summer days)
  • Heat stroke 

 

Complications Of A Fever

Febrile Seizure

Kids from six months to five years old can develop febrile seizures* due to their fever. These convulsions can happen at temperatures above 100.4°F (38°C), but more typically 101°F (38.3°C). They can last for a few minutes but usually stop without treatment. (9)

*The term “febrile” means “feverish.”

Symptoms of febrile seizures include: (9)

  • Eye rolling
  • Uncontrollable shaking or convulsions (can range from a few seconds to more than 15 minutes)
  • Stiff or rigid limbs
  • Passing out

 

In most cases, febrile seizures don’t last more than 15 minutes. They don’t typically cause further health problems and won’t require hospitalization. (9)

Although prolonged seizures may still be considered “harmless,” your doctor might consider monitoring your child for possible increased risks of developing epilepsy (which causes seizures even without a fever). (9)

If your child had convulsions, pediatricians Dr. Kardos and Dr. Lai of the “Two Peds In A Pod” blog recommend taking your child to a doctor – even if you think it’s just a febrile seizure. (1)

 

Complications From The Underlying Conditions

Thankfully, fevers don’t actually cause complications in most cases. However, the underlying medical condition can. (3)(8)

For example, an untreated toddler ear infection can lead to brain abscess (pockets of fluid), meningitis (brain membrane inflammation), and neurological complications. Fever is one of the signs of an ear infection, but it doesn’t directly cause these serious complications. (10)

 

How To Check If Your Child Has A Fever

Symptoms To Consider & Check

Young children might not be vocal about how they feel, but here are some symptoms linked with fevers: (3)

  • Feel hot or warm
  • Less active or talkative than usual
  • Fussier
  • Thirstier
  • Less hungry

 

Sometimes, kids can also feel like they’re “burning up inside” even when their temperature is not too high. (3)

 

Ways To Accurately Take Your Baby Or Toddler’s Temperature

Underarm Or Armpit Temperature

  1. Turn on the digital thermometer.
  2. Place the tip of the thermometer in the middle of your child’s armpit.
  3. Wait for the thermometer to beep.

 

Oral Temperature

  1. Clean the thermometer with soap and water.
  2. Place the tip under your child’s tongue.
  3. Wait for the beep.

 

Rectal Temperature

  1. Clean the thermometer.
  2. Cover the tip with petroleum jelly.
  3. Put your baby on their back.
  4. Gently insert the thermometer about an inch inside their rectum.
  5. Wait for the beep.

 

Ear Or Tympanic Temperature

  1. Clean the probe tip or replace the plastic cover (follow the manufacturer’s instructions).
  2. Gently tug your child’s ear and insert the probe until the ear canal is fully sealed off. Don’t push too hard.
  3. Click the button to take the temperature reading.

 

Forehead Or Temporal Temperature

  1. Clean the thermometer.
  2. Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to take a reading (e.g., some require that the probe touch the skin, while others require scanning the surface from side to side).

 

Ensuring An Accurate Temperature Reading

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Check that the batteries don’t have low power.

 

Safety Guidelines When Using Thermometers

  • Don’t use mercury thermometers. They’re made of glass, which can be prone to breaking. Mercury (a dangerous heavy metal) can harm you and your kids if the thermometer breaks.
  • Always try to clean the thermometers in between uses.
  • You can use regular digital thermometers for oral, armpit, or rectal readings. However, don’t use the same thermometer for oral and rectal readings. You might consider labeling your thermometers.

 

Special Considerations For Kids With Cancer & Other Serious Ailments

Kids with serious ailments such as cancer might need a different approach to temperature reading than other children. Clinical trials are currently being done for wearable devices (brands: Everion and CORE) that constantly monitor their temperature. (6)(7)

According to a 2018 Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing study, oral temperatures can be more accurate than ear or forehead readings. However, oral thermometers might not be applicable or ideal for all cancer patients. (6)

 

Things To Do If Your Baby Or Toddler Has A Fever

What To Do If Your Baby Or Toddler’s Temperature Is High

A fever that’s making your child uncomfortable must be treated. However, treating your child’s fever doesn’t make their body eliminate the infection faster. It will simply relieve the discomfort they feel relating to the fever. (3)

 

Give OTC Fever-Reduction Medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines (e.g., acetaminophen or ibuprofen) are readily available for fever and considered safe for kids. (see below) 8)

Your child doesn’t need to take medication for a low-grade fever (99 to 101°F or 37.2°C to 38.33) unless they appear uncomfortable. Medicines are usually given when your child’s fever is above 101.5°F (38.6°C). (8)

Check the medicine’s label and follow the instructions carefully. It’s best only to use a syringe (without the metal needle part) or the small cup that comes with the medicine to give the correct dose to your child. (8)

Inadequate fever medicine won’t be effective, but excessive medicine can be dangerous. Follow the instructions on the label carefully. (8)

Even if they’re usually labeled as ‘teaspoon’ or ‘tablespoon,’ don’t use regular household cutlery because they can actually vary in size. They won’t give your child the accurate dose. Only use the dosing cup or syringe that came with that medicine. (8)

 

Acetaminophen

Tylenol is one of the well-known brands of acetaminophen typically sold in the US. It is approved by the US FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) as a fever-reducing medicine for babies younger than six months old. (3)(8)

We also recommend Genexa, a fever and pain reliever for kids without artificial fillers or dyes:

  • Genexa Infants’ Pain and Fever Reducer

WALMART BUTTON

  • Genexa Children’s Acetaminophen Pain and Fever Reducer

WALMART BUTTON

 

Ibuprofen

Motrin and Advil are common ibuprofen brands in the US. (3)(8)

Ibuprofen can have some advantages over acetaminophen for kids older than six months of age: (8)

  • Less frequent drinking because it can last 6-8 hours
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce swelling from ear infections or teething
  • May be ideal for children with asthma or recurrent wheezing

 

Warning About Aspirin & Other Medications

DON’T give aspirin to your child. It may lead to a serious, potentially fatal side effect or disease called Reye syndrome. It can cause liver and brain damage. (3)

Symptoms include: (11)

  • Lethargy
  • Severe nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Increased irritability
  • Anger or violent behavior
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness (no response when trying to wake them up)
  • Coma

 

Encourage Your Child To Rest

A fever can make children feel tired. It’s ideal for your child to rest so they can get better soon.

 

Are There Ways To Reduce A Child’s Fever Naturally?

Some essential oils can also help reduce fever naturally. You can use them topically (diluted with a carrier oil; example: olive oil) or with an EO diffuser. However, not all are safe for babies and children. 

Here’s a list of essential oils for fever, and you can check the infographic below for their safe use depending on your child’s age:

  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Frankincense oil
  • Ginger oil
  • Lemon oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Rosemary oil

Keep Your Child Hydrated

Encourage your little one to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids (e.g., water, milk, juices, etc.). (3)

 

Sponge Baths With Lukewarm Water

An ice bath can be tempting, but shivering from cold water can make your child’s body increase its temperature quickly. A lukewarm bath or sponge bath is a better idea. Never leave your kid unattended in the bathtub; make their bath as quick as possible. (3)

 

Things To Avoid If Your Child Has A Fever

Avoid Overheating & Bundling

Dress your child lightly. Over bundling babies, excessive clothing for older kids, and thick blankets can trap their body heat. This will further increase their temperature. (3)

 

Other Things To Avoid

It’s also important to take note of the following: (2)(3)

  • Don’t use alcohol baths, and avoid rubbing alcohol on their skin. Dr. Romm warns that this might lead to neurological damage.
  • Avoid switching between ibuprofen and acetaminophen unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
  • Don’t give any fever medicine to babies younger than three months old without your doctor’s prescription.
  • Avoid giving ibuprofen to babies younger than six months.

 

Calming Your Fears: Not All Fevers Are Dangerous

Busting Some Fever Myths

#1: Will A Child’s Fever Lead To Seizures?

High temperatures of 101°F (38.3°C) or more can sometimes lead to febrile seizures. While your child can experience convulsions, the seizures usually go away without medications and aren’t likely to cause permanent health damage. (2)(9)

 

#2: Are Fevers Really Bad For Children?

No. Fevers are actually beneficial. They’re among the body’s first line of defense to fight infections or illnesses. (2)

 

#3: Is It Dangerous If My Child’s Fever Doesn’t Respond To Medication?

According to Dr. Romm, the persistence of a fever doesn’t directly mean your child has a severe illness. (2)

 

#4: Can A Fever Lead To Brain Damage?

No. A fever can’t directly cause brain damage, but the infection that causes the fever can (e.g., an ear infection that complicates into meningitis and brain abscess). (10) 

 

#5: Low-Grade Fevers Are A Sign Of Illness

No. Temperatures from 98.7°F (37.0°) to 100°F (37.8°C) are called “low-grade fevers.” However, these aren’t signs of illness because they’re within the normal body temperature range. (2)

 

#6: Does A Higher Temperature Mean A More Dangerous Illness?

No. Dr. Romm explains that the exact temperature isn’t always an indicator of a severe or dangerous illness. Babies under three months old must see a doctor. However, you can monitor for other danger signs in older children before calling your doctor. (see our guide above) (2)

 

How To Tell If Your Child’s Fever Is Okay 

  • Their temperature isn’t dangerously high
  • Their behavior & regular activities aren’t affected much

 

Other Key Points & Things To Know

  • Shivering or chills are a way for your child’s body to manage the temperature; they aren’t dangerous
  • Chills aren’t considered seizures
  • Most viral infections (common fever causes) last for 3-5 days

 

Other FAQs On Toddler Fever

How Can I Convert Temperature Readings From Celsius To Fahrenheit Or Vice Versa?

(source: pinterest.com)

 

What If My Child Has A Persistent Low-Grade Fever?

Children don’t typically need medical assistance for a low-grade fever (from 98.7°F or 37.0° to 100°F or 37.8°C). (12)

Low-grade fevers are typically due to: (12)

  • Reaction to immunization
  • Mild infection or illness

 

However, take your child to a doctor if their low-grade fever lasts over a week. (3)

 

When Can My Toddler Go Back To Daycare Or Preschool After A Fever?

Your child can resume regular activities and return to school or daycare when they no longer have a fever. It’s also important to consider their overall health status. For example, consider letting them stay home if they still feel tired, sleepy, or fussy.

 

What Should I Do If My Child Continues To Feel Sick Without A Fever?

Take your child to urgent care or call your doctor if their symptoms don’t improve.

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES

(1) https://www.twopedsinapod.org/2016/12/fever-whats-hot-whats-not-and-what-to-do-about-it/

(2) https://www.instagram.com/reel/C3K_L-oKZ_j/?igsh=MzRlODBiNWFlZA%3D%3D

(3) https://www.childrensnational.org/get-care/health-library/fever-of-unknown-origin

(4) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34215406/

(5) https://www.baystatehealth.org/articles/how-to-take-childs-temp

(6) https://www.ons.org/cjon/22/6/temperature-measurements-comparison-different-thermometer-types-patients-cancer

(7) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00520-024-08366-w

(8) https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/childrens-health/when-to-worry-about-a-childs-fever

(9) https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/febrile-seizures

(10) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180416142450.htm

(11) https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=reye-syndrome-in-children-90-P02620

(12) https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003090.htm

 

 

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