Fevers: What to Do Without Over-the-Counter Medicines
October 4, 2023
As a parent, it can be stressful when your child doesn’t feel well. With sick season ramping up for children, parents are looking for ways to manage symptoms—including reducing fevers. And many are coming up short on locating over-the-counter acetaminophen and ibuprofen products for infants and children.
If you find yourself in this situation, stay calm: it’s important to know that over-the-counter fever-reducing medicines are strictly for comfort. They won’t cure an illness or shorten its severity or duration. In addition, there are several things besides fever-reducing medicines that you can do to help make your child more comfortable.
Does a Fever Hurt my Child? Do They Even Need to Take Fever-Reducing Medicine?
The short answer to both of these questions is no. A fever is a sign of the body’s immune system doing its job to fight off an infection. We often treat fevers in children because it helps them be more comfortable when they are sick. The good news is there are other ways to help your child feel comfortable, such as making sure they get plenty of fluids and allowing them to get plenty of rest.
What are Some Non-Medicine Methods for Helping my Child When They Have a Fever?
Encouraging children to drink plenty of fluids is key! Try giving small frequent sips of liquid or even popsicles. Dress your child in comfortable and breathable clothes and give them a blanket if they have chills. A lukewarm bath may feel nice, but avoid ice baths and cold-water baths. These will cause your child to shiver and actually create more heat.
Name Brand vs Generic Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen: What Should I Get if I Can Find It?
Generic or store brand medications have the same active ingredients as the name brand medications. So, you can give your child either one if needed. If a child is old enough, chewable tablets or dissolvable powders may also be an option. Just make sure to read the label and pay attention to the dosing instructions, which are based on the weight and age of your child. You can also check these dosing charts for acetaminophen and ibuprofen. For example, ibuprofen is generally not recommended for babies under 6 months old.
Also, call your pediatrician before giving fever medicine if your child is under 2 months old.
My Child Also has a Cough. Can I Give Cough-and-Cold Medicine That has a Fever-Reducer in It?
Combination medications for children that are labeled to tackle a variety of symptoms including fever and cough are not typically recommended. The fever-reducing medication can be under-dosed when given this way, making it less effective. Stick to identifying the symptoms you want to help and avoid the combo approach.
When to Call Your Pediatrician:
Most viral illnesses causing fevers in children will resolve after a week. Focus on how your child looks and acts while they’re sick—if they have a fever but are playful, they will likely do okay at home.
However, call your pediatrician or seek immediate medical care if your child:
- has concerning symptoms such as acting very sleepy or weak, peeing less than usual, showing signs of dehydration or difficulty breathing.
- is younger than 3 months old and has a temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher, even if they seem fine and show no other signs of illness.
- is younger than 2 years old and the fever lasts for more than 24 hours
- is 2 years of age or older and the fever lasts for more than 3 days (72 hours)