Q. At what point should you give a child Tylenol or ibuprofen to bring down a fever? When I was a young mother and took my child to the emergency room to find out why his temperature was high, the doctor berated me for not loading him up with aspirin.
A. There is no single temperature that necessitates treatment in a young child. According to Tieraona Low Dog, MD, author of Healthy at Home, it makes more sense to assess the child’s overall behavior. A child who is listless and not eating, even if the fever is only 99 or 100, may need prompt medical attention. A child with a fever of 102 who is active, eating and drinking probably doesn’t need a fever reducer. (You can listen to Dr. Low Dog giving this advice.)
Aspirin is no longer given to children with viral infections because it could lead to Reye’s syndrome. But even acetaminophen and ibuprofen don’t speed recovery from a cold or flu.
In fact, a recent study suggests that taking fever reducers during a bout of the flu increases viral replication and may help spread the flu to other people (Proceedings of the Royal Society B, March 7, 2014). To learn more about what actually helps the flu and how it should be treated, you may wish to consult our Guide to Colds, Coughs & the Flu.