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Treating a Fever Without Medicine

Fevers generally do not need to be treated with medication unless your child is uncomfortable or has a history of febrile convulsions. The fever may be important in helping your child fight the infection.

Even higher temperatures are not in themselves dangerous or significant unless your child has a history of seizures or a chronic disease. Even if your child has a history of a fever-related convulsion and you treat the fever with medication, they may still have this kind of seizure. It is more important to watch how your child is behaving.

If he is eating and sleeping well and has periods of playfulness, he probably doesn’t need any treatment. You should also talk with your pediatrician about when to treat your child’s fever.

Treatment Suggestions for Fever

  • Keep your child’s room and your home comfortably cool, and dress him lightly.
  • Encourage him to drink extra fluid or other liquids (water, diluted fruit juices, commercially prepared oral electrolyte solutions, gelatin [Jell-O], Popsicles, etc.).
  • If the room is warm or stuffy, place a fan nearby to keep cool air moving. 
  • Your child does not have to stay in his room or in bed when he has a fever. He can be up and about the house, but should not run around and overexert himself. 
  • If the fever is a symptom of a highly contagious disease (e.g., chickenpox or the flu), keep your child away from other children, elderly people, or people who may not be able to fight infection well, such as those with cancer.


In most cases, using oral acetaminophen or ibuprofen is the most convenient way to make your feverish child more comfortable. However, sometimes you may want to combine this with tepid sponging, or just use sponging alone.

Sponging is preferred over acetaminophen or ibuprofen if:

  • Your child is known to be allergic to, or is unable to tolerate, antipyretic (anti-fever) drugs (a rare case).

It is advisable to combine sponging with acetaminophen or ibuprofen if:

  • Fever is making your child extremely uncomfortable. 
  • He is vomiting and may not be able to keep the medication in his stomach.

To sponge your child, place him in his regular bath (tub or baby bath), but put only 1 to 2 inches of tepid water (85–90 degrees Fahrenheit, or 29.4–32.2 degrees Celsius) in the basin. If you do not have a bath thermometer, test the water with the back of your hand or wrist. It should feel just slightly warm. Do not use cold water, since that will be uncomfortable and may cause shivering, which can raise his temperature. If your child starts to shiver, then the water is too cold. Shivering can make a fever worse; take your child out of the bath if he shivers.

Seat your child in the water—it is more comfortable than lying down. Then, using a clean washcloth or sponge, spread a film of water over his trunk, arms, and legs. The water will evaporate and cool the body. Keep the room at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.9 degrees Celsius), and continue sponging him until his temperature has reached an acceptable level. Never put rubbing alcohol in the water; it can be absorbed into the skin or inhaled, which can cause serious problems, such as coma.

Usually sponging will bring down the fever by one to two degrees in thirty to forty-five minutes. However, if your child is resisting actively, stop and let him just sit and play in the water. If being in the tub makes him more upset and uncomfortable, it is best to take him out even if his fever is unchanged. Remember, a fever less than 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius) is in itself not harmful.

Last Updated
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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