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Study: Fever phobia rampant among parents

February 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The American Academy of Pediatrics says far too many American parents are probably over treating or worrying needless about fevers.

Getting his temperature checked is a big inconvenience for 2 1/2-year-old Benjamin Geller. For his mom, it's a formality. After three kids, she says she can tell when a fever is something to worry about.

"I kind of know what the doctor is going to say so I don't really call that much," said Kristie Geller.

But a new report in the journal Pediatrics finds many parents, especially new ones, have what's being coined as fever phobia.

"Fever phobia would be the fear of the actual number - if you didn't know what your child's temperature was, you wouldn't necessarily be afraid of it but parents are," said Dr. John Rodarte, a pediatrician in La Canada Flintridge.

He says most parents call because they think a fever is dangerous and should be reduced, which is untrue. Many also incorrectly believe treating a fever may shorten a child's illness.

"If you treat it right away you're not letting the body fight it to some degree," said Dr. Rodarte.

The report said most kids' fevers are caused by viruses, and they will go away without medicine and without causing damage.

Parents shouldn't try to treat a fever for the sake of eliminating it. Doctors say treat the child, not the number.

"The biggest piece of advice I always give is not so much what's the fever, but how is your child. I don't really care what the number is, it's more how is your child doing," said Dr. Rodarte.

If you have an infant under 3 months with a fever, always let your doctor know. For an older child, seek medical attention if a fever persists for more than three to four days or they have other worrisome symptoms like shortness of breath or wheezing.

"If your child has been having a fever but also has been not drinking or eating all day and they might be dehydrated, that would be something I'd want to know about," said Dr. Rodarte.

Most physicians recommend calling the doctor if the child's temperature hits 104 degrees. Experts said temperatures lower than 100.4 degrees are not considered a fever.

Experts say the appropriate dosage for children for both acetaminophen and ibuprofen is based on a child's weight. And never use aspirin products in a child.

Other than that, doctors say parents can usually trust their instincts.

"Take a deep breath and really trust your gut," said Geller.

Doctors no longer recommend aspirin for kids because of concerns over Reye syndrome, a rare condition associated with aspirin use that affects a child's brain and liver. Also, Dr. Rodarte says febrile seizures, or seizures that happen with fevers, may be a huge concern for parents, but they're usually harmless and kids often grow out of them.

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