You've probably experienced waking in the middle of the night to find your child flushed, hot, and sweaty. Your little one's forehead feels warm. You immediately suspect a fever, but are unsure of what to do next. Should you get out the thermometer? Call the doctor?
In healthy kids, fevers usually don't indicate anything serious. Although it can be frightening when your child's temperature rises, fever itself causes no harm and can actually be a good thing — it's often the body's way of fighting infections. And not all fevers need to be treated. High fever, however, can make a child uncomfortable and worsen problems such as dehydration.
Here's more about fevers, how to measure and treat them, and when to call your doctor.
Fever occurs when the body's internal "thermostat" raises the body temperature above its normal level. This thermostat is found in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus knows what temperature your body should be (usually around 98.6°F/37°C) and will send messages to your body to keep it that way.
Most people's body temperatures even change a little bit during the course of the day: It's usually a little lower in the morning and a little higher in the evening and can fluctuate as kids run around, play, and exercise.
Sometimes, though, the hypothalamus will "reset" the body to a higher temperature in response to an infection, illness, or some other cause. Why? Researchers believe turning up the heat is the body's way of fighting the germs that cause infections and making the body a less comfortable place for them.