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When should I take my child to the emergency room (ER) for a fever?

If your child has a fever, it is best to call your pediatrician first before heading to the emergency room (ER). However, if your pediatrician is unavailable, and your child (age 3 or older) has had a temperature over 102 degrees for two or more days, you should seek emergency care. You should also head to the ER if the fever is accompanied by any of these symptoms: 

  • abdominal pain
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • unable to keep fluids down
  • burning during urination or does not urinate
  • rash
  • stiff neck
  • difficulty waking up
  • not up to date on immunizations

If your child’s fever is not improving with medication or is combined with other symptoms, you should see a healthcare professional at the emergency room (ER).

You should take your child to the emergency room (ER) for a fever if your child has a fever for an unexplained reason, and is not eating and drinking, not acting right, not making good, wet diapers or producing urine. These are red flags. There's not really a right or wrong reason to bring your kid to the ER for a fever. Moms and dads know their kids better than anyone else.

Probably 95 percent of the time a fever is nothing more than a virus. Parents can try a fever medication, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen first. If the child is acting completely normally and just has a cough and congestion, he or she can probably ride it out. But if the child has any of those red flags, it's a good idea to bring the child to the ER to get checked out.

If your child has a mild fever, it generally can be treated at home with over the counter medications and rest. Sometimes, however, a fever is indicative of a more serious infection. If your child has a fever, it is usually a good idea to call your pediatrician before heading to the emergency room (ER). If your pediatrician is unavailable, consider the guidelines below.

If your baby is younger than three months old and the temperature is over 100.4, visit the ER. Additionally, seek emergency care if your child's fever is accompanied by these symptoms:

  • difficulty to wake up to feed
  • difficulty breathing
  • inconsolable or non-stop crying
  • rash
  • vomiting

If your baby is between the ages of three months and three years and his temperature is more than 102.2, visit the ER. Additionally, seek emergency care if your child's fever is accompanied by these symptoms:

  • difficulty to rouse
  • unable to keep fluids down
  • not urinating
  • inconsolable
  • not up to date on immunizations
  • difficulty breathing
  • rash

If your child is over the age of three and his temperature is more than 102 for two or more days, visit the pediatric ER. Additionally, seek emergency care if the fever is accompanied by these symptoms:

  • difficult to rouse
  • abdominal pain
  • unable to keep fluids down
  • burning during urination
  • not urinating
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • rash
  • stiff neck
  • not up to date on immunizations

You should take children older than 3 months to the emergency room (ER) for a fever if the fever is more than 104 degrees for a long period of time. Ice them down first and then bring them to the ER. If your child is less than three months old, and the fever is more than 100.3 degrees F, take him or her in to see a doctor, especially if the temperature has been more than that for a sustained period of time.

Fever is the number one complaint we see in the pediatric population and sometimes it can be very serious. A lot of the time, the absolute number of the temperature doesn't matter. What's more important is how the child is acting. If the child is experiencing any of the following symptoms, it could indicate the need for emergency treatment:

  • not eating
  • not drinking
  • vomiting
  • lethargic
  • having trouble breathing

If parents have any concerns at all, those signs and symptoms are an indication that they should bring the child to the emergency room (ER).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.