Baby Health

‘Fever Phobia’ Parents Are Clogging Hospital Emergency Rooms, Experts Say

Kid got a fever? Pick up that bottle of paracetamol and hold off on the hospital visit.

At least, that’s the message from an Australian study into children and the fevers which plague them.

A high temperature in your child is scary as hell. We may be parents who are completely capable (or, ahem, moderately capable) in every other aspect of life. But when it comes to our child’s health? Yeah, we go to pieces and call on the experts. But experts may not be what we actually need, according to a new University of Tasmania study which found that more than a third of visits to the emergency room for a fever are actually unnecessary.

Fever phobia

The study, just published in the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, reports that parents are rushing to hospital when their children would be better off tucked in bed. It advises parents should monitor fevers at home and treat children with fluids and paracetamol instead of heading for the emergency room.

“It has been reported that many parents are unable to determine what a normal temperature for their child is and are excessively concerned about the harms that they expect to be associated with fever, such as brain damage and seizure,” the researchers said.

Say whaaaaaaat? Many parents believe that fevers are a medical emergency and require immediate attention from a doctor.

australian flu epidemic

Fever phobia‘ is a real thing and Dr Ryan Harvey, Assistant Medical Director at House Call Doctor, understands where it has come from. “Parents are concerned by fever because it means their child has an illness,” Dr Harvey explains. “However, parents and the general population lack medical or health literacy in some areas and are not informed enough to distinguish benign, non troubling fevers from potentially serious illness.”

The study found that many parents can’t tell the difference between a ‘normal’ fever that can be managed at home and one that’s more serious.

“Many parents are not even aware of what number constitutes a true fever,” Dr Harvey tells Mum Central. “At home thermometers have existed for many years and this leads parents to, more often than not, overuse them when trying to determine how sick their child is.” And this is putting some serious strain on our emergency rooms.

The fever files

So what actually constitutes a ‘proper’ fever? According to The Royal Children’s Hospital, fever is any temperature above 38.5°C (or 38°C for children under three months of age). Dr Harvey adds that other symptoms, alongside a fever is what should be considered. “If your child is struggling to breath, becoming drowsy/losing consciousness, not keeping fluid or food down or not being responsive then these should be triggers to head to the emergency department.”

What if your child appears ‘ok’ but warm? “When your child has a fever the first action should be to give some paracetamol or ibuprofen,” says Dr Harvey.  “These can successfully lower fever and ease a child’s discomfort.”

If your child isn’t improving? “If you’re concerned that your child is more unwell or concerned with high fevers then seeing your GP or calling a home doctor after hours is the best next step,” Dr Harvey advises. Hospital should be a last resort when the situation isn’t improving or suddenly becomes worse.

What parents need to know

A fever in itself doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, of the four vital signs that medical professionals check, fever is the least important.

Fever simply tells a doctor that there is an infection or inflammation occurring and does not give an indication as to how sick or with what sickness a child might have,” Dr Harvey advises.  “A benign fever due to a respiratory virus or gastroenteritis should only last a few days before the body beats the illness and no longer responds with a fever.”

The take away message? If in doubt, always seek medical advice. Otherwise, grab the paracetamol, keep your child cool and hydrated and ride out the storm away from the germs of the ER.

Need the reassurance of a good thermometer? Check out our guide to choosing a home thermometer (and enter to win a Braun ThermoScan 7).

Avatar of Naomi Foxall

Naomi is 3/4 latte drinking, peanut butter obsessed former magazine girl who now does stuff with words for a living while juggling 2.5 kids, 2 cats, 1 rabbit, husband and an unhealthy obsession with slow cooking.

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