Fevers accompany many common childhood illnesses, and a lot of parents administer medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen at the first sign of an elevated body temperature. But a new clinical report issued by The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that medication isn't always necessary and can, in fact, be harmful.

How Should Parents Treat a Fever?

According to the AAP report, Fever and Antipyretic Use In Children, parents are often overly concerned about reducing a fever, which is simply the body's normal response to infection. The report states:

"Many parents administer antipyretics even when there is minimal or no fever, because they are concerned that the child must maintain a "normal" temperature. Fever, however, is not the primary illness but is a physiologic mechanism that has beneficial effects in fighting infection."

The authors of the report go on to suggest that parents should focus on making their child comfortable, rather than reducing their fever, when trying to determine if medication is necessary.

A child with a low fever who is playing happily doesn't need medicine because he or she is already comfortable, and the fever is a good sign that his or her body is effectively fighting off the illness. A feverish child who is sleeping peacefully doesn't need medicine either, which means there's no need to wake your child up just because it's been 6 hours since their last dose of meds.

On the other hand, a child who can't sleep or is uncomfortable due to a high fever would be a better candidate for antipyretic (translation: fever-reducing) medication. The fever-reducing medication won't treat the illness, but it will make the child more comfortable and less cranky (which in turn can make life easier for mom and dad, right?)

Can Medication Be Harmful?

There are two big concerns when it comes to giving children medications that they don't really need. First, recent recalls of children's products like Tylenol offer proof that we need to be cautious about what we're putting in our children's bodies, and be sure that the benefits outweigh the risks. Second, improper and unsafe dosage by well-intentioned but confused parents is an all too common occurrence that sends many children to the emergency room each year.

Improper dosing is a major concern to the AAP. While this latest report suggests that fevers may be more effectively treated by a combination of both acetaminophen and ibuprofen, the authors express concern that it may be too confusing for parents to keep track of proper dosages and which medication was given when.

What to Remember About Fever

The most important point to take away from this new study is that a fever is not always a cause for alarm, and that parents don't need to rush to the medicine cabinet at the first sign of an elevated body temperature. In general, a good rule of thumb is to watch your child and not the thermometer.

If your child is playing happily or resting peacefully, you don't need to pull out the medicine. If the fever is clearly making your child miserable, antipyretics like ibuprofen (brand name Motrin) or acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) might be in order. But be sure to carefully follow the dosing instructions on the box or the ones given to you by your doctor.

Most importantly, trust your instincts. If you feel like it's more than just a fever and your child needs to be seen by a doctor, you're probably right.

To learn more about this recent report and the general guidelines that parents should follow when treating a fever, watch Dr. Richard Besser discuss myths about fevers on Good Morning America or consult with your own pediatrician or family doctor.

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