When to See a Doctor for a Fever

Sick woman taking her temperature
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Fevers are not always serious. Typically, they're just our bodies' way of fighting off an infection. If you're concerned about a fever or wondering what temperature is too high, these tips will help you. While there is no specific number that is going to send you to the hospital in most cases, there are several things to take into consideration.

When to See Your Doctor for a Fever

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms along with fever:

  • The fever lasts for more than 48 hours
  • A baby under 3 months old with any temperature over 100.3 F
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts more than 12 hours or is bloody
  • A cough that produces yellow, green, tan, or bloody mucus
  • The fevers come and go and you have night sweats and swollen lymph nodes
  • The fevers come and go for a week or more, even if they are low-grade
  • A mild fever comes and goes along with a sore throat and tiredness
  • A sore throat and headache for more than 48 hours
  • An earache
  • When you have recently started taking a new medicine and have no other symptoms
  • When your temperature remains above 103 degrees despite medication and other cool-down measures such as taking a cool bath, cool compresses on your head and under your arms, or drinking cool drinks

When a Fever Is an Emergency

Seek medical treatment immediately if any of the following occur with fever:

  • A severe headache
  • Exposure to high temperatures outside and you can't get your temperature down after attempting cool-down measures
  • Mental confusion
  • A strange skin rash, particularly if it starts to get worse and/or spread
  • Breathing difficulties or chest pain
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Pain and stiffness in your neck when you look down
  • Seizures
  • Severe stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting
  • Pain or burning when urinating possibly accompanied by stomach or back pain
  • Having unusual sensitivity to light

Fevers Aren't Harmful in and of Themselves

Although people worry about fever, it's only a symptom of an illness, not an illness itself. A fever is the body's way of fighting off an infection and is almost never harmful. Most of the reasons listed above for seeking medical attention are so you can be evaluated and treated if the cause of the fever is something serious.

If you're unsure if your fever requires medical intervention, try this symptom checker for fever to help you decide.

Children and Fevers

Kids frequently have high fevers and although it may be concerning as a parent, paying attention to your child's behavior is far more important than the number on the thermometer (with the exception of infants under 3 months old, as stated above). If your child feels better and plays after you give her a fever-reducing medicine, you probably don't need to worry. However, if your child doesn't have any energy, can't keep food down, has a bad headache or stomachache, or has the fever for more than three days, be sure to call your doctor.

Sources:

American Academy of Family Physicians. Fever in Infants and Children. Updated April 2014.

Mayo Clinic. Fever: symptoms and causes. Updated July 21, 2017.

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