9 Reasons For Low Grade Fever In Kids: Symptoms And Treatment

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Children’s normal body temperature ranges from 97.5°F to 99.5°F (36.4°C to 37.4°C). Low-grade fever in kids occurs when the body temperature is between 99.6°F and 100.3°F (37.5°C to 37.9°C). Alternatively, a fever occurs if the temperature is 100.4°F (38°C) or above (1).

Children may contract a fever due to several factors, ranging from changes in the weather to an underlying infection. If your child is experiencing a low-grade fever but seems energetic and continues their normal activities, resting for a while will help them recover. However, if other symptoms accompany the low-grade fever, medical intervention is needed.

Read this post to learn about the causes of low-grade fever in children and the symptoms to look out for.

Causes Of Low-Grade Fever In Children

A low-grade fever could mean that your child’s body is trying to ward off an infection or an underlying disease. The following are some of the common reasons behind a low-grade fever.

1. Respiratory infections: When viruses and bacteria cause respiratory infections such as the common cold and influenza, the body tries to destroy such pathogens by increasing the body temperature. However, this protective mechanism against such infections could cause a low-grade fever (2).

2. Urinary tract infections: UTIs could be another potential cause of low-grade fever in your child. It is a bacterial infection anywhere in the kidneys, urethra, ureters, or bladder and is characterized by a stinging sensation during peeing. A bladder infection could result in low-grade fever. However, if the infection spreads to the kidneys, other symptoms, such as night sweats, fatigue, chills, and fever above 100.3°F (38°C), may also occur (3).

3. Medicines and vaccines: A low-grade fever could be a side effect of a new medication. Such drug fevers could be due to hypersensitivity towards the medicine. Refer to the label of the medications to check if the new medicine could be the cause (4).

Similarly, vaccinations are followed by an episode of a low-grade fever. A vaccine usually contains small amounts of inactive microbes that trigger the body’s immune system to strengthen the protective response. Therefore, a low-grade fever 24 hours after vaccination is a good sign, as it suggests the vaccine has been effective. Such fevers last a day or two and can be treated with anti-fever medicines (5) (6).

4. Cancer: A persistent low-grade fever for weeks or months could be a symptom of underlying cancers, especially leukemias and lymphomas. A fever is a rare symptom of cancer. If the fever lasts for more than three days, you may alert your medical professional (7).

5. Stress: A low-grade fever caused by psychological stress is called psychogenic fever. According to the American Institute of Stress, family conflicts could increase the risk of illnesses, which could cause a fever (8).

6. Tuberculosis: TB is an airborne contagious disease spread by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. A low-grade fever is a common symptom of tuberculosis in children (9).

7. Autoimmune diseases: Usually, the body treats an external agent as a pathogen. But in an autoimmune disease, the body presumes the healthy cells as pathogens and attacks them. Rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis are common autoimmune diseases in children, and a low-grade fever is a common early symptom (10).

8. Meningitis: Meninges are thin membranes that enclose the brain and spinal cord. Inflammation of the meninges due to bacterial and viral infections leads to meningitis, which can further trigger low-grade fever in children (11).

9. Other infections or chronic diseases: Here are a few other infections that could cause a low-grade fever (12).

  • Gastrointestinal infections such as food poisoning or parasitic infections in the GI tract
  • Childhood infections such as mumps (a viral illness that affects the salivary glands), chickenpox (a contagious viral infection that causes blisters on the skin), and measles (a viral respiratory illness caused by rubeola)
  • Tonsillitis (the inflammation of tonsils due to bacteria)
  • Other bacterial throat infections such as scarlet fever (accompanied with a rash) and strep throat
  • Cellulitis (bacterial skin infection)
  • Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland)

Symptoms Of Low-Grade Fever In Children

As low-grade fever has multiple etiological factors, and the symptoms could be specific to the underlying cause. Nevertheless, here are a few of the common symptoms (1).

  • Decreased frequency of urination
  • Dehydration (when loss of body fluids is more than the intake)
  • Headache
  • Body pain
  • Loss of appetite

When To See A Doctor

A child could have a fever ranging between 102°F to 103°F. Sometimes, they may have a fever as high as 103°F and perform their routine activities with regular energy. However, stay vigilant, and if any of the following symptoms accompany a fever, visit your healthcare provider (13) (14) (15).

  • Sore throat, cough, runny nose, blood in sputum, and fatigue
  • A fever for more than three days
  • Temperature above 104°F
  • Persistent fatigue even after good rest
  • Difficulty in walking and breathing
  • Seems confused or makes no eye contact,
  • Photophobia (fear of light)
  • Seizures
  • No response to fever-reducing pills
  • Pneumonia and bronchitis
  • Viral illnesses such as measles and whooping cough
  • Foul-smelling urine, or pain and burning sensation while peeing
  • Decrease in urine output
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite)
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (swelling seen on the side of the neck)
  • Excessive night sweats
  • Bone and joint pains
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain, vomiting, and nausea
  • Sudden and unintended loss of weight
  • Unexplained lumps, rashes, and bruises on the body
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Blood in sputum
  • Fatigue

Diagnosis Of Low-Grade Fever

The best way to diagnose a low-grade fever is by measuring the child’s temperature using a thermometer. You could opt for any of these thermometers (16).

  • Digital thermometer, which is placed under the tongue or armpit or inserted into the rectum
  • Tympanic (ear) thermometer
  • Temporal artery thermometer, which is placed on the forehead area

Your child’s doctor would ask about the symptoms observed and conduct a physical examination. They may also perform a few blood tests and take a urine sample to check for urinary tract infections.

Treatment For Low-Grade Fever In Children

If the low-grade fever is caused by a viral infection, taking proper rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and having a lukewarm bath are often advised. You could also give them an anti-fever pill, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Children under 17 years should not be given Aspirin as it may cause Reye’s syndrome (17) (18).

Based on the type and severity of the infection, your pediatrician may suggest some additional interventions such as antibiotics or antiviral drugs.

Antibiotics and increased fluid intake are often suggested for UTI. If the underlying cause is chronic, the treatment would include extensive medical interventions.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are children contagious with a low-grade fever?

Yes, sometimes children may be contagious with a low-grade fever, especially if they have other symptoms such as a body ache or cold. Therefore, they must return to school or daycare only when they are fever-free for 24 hours, without taking any fever-reducing medications (19).

2. Can my child have a low-grade fever and not be sick?

Yes, a child could feel okay with a low-grade fever, which may resolve without treatment. Moreover, a child’s body temperature might vary and be higher during some phases of the day, including afternoon and evening (20).

Low-grade fever in kids may occur when the body tries to fight infections or underlying conditions. There can be a slight increase in the body temperature in respiratory and urinary tract infections after taking certain medications and vaccinations. Stress and autoimmune conditions may also cause a low-grade fever. You may measure temperature using a thermometer and seek pediatric care if your child has an increased temperature or accompanying symptoms. Doctors may prescribe fever medications and medications to treat the underlying causes.

Key Pointers

  • A low-grade fever may indicate that your child’s body is fighting an infection or underlying illness.
  • You may notice that your child urinates more frequently, looks dehydrated, has a headache, and complains of body pain and loss of appetite.
  • The simplest method to identify a low-grade fever is to take the child’s temperature with a thermometer.
  • Adequate rest, anti-fever medication, plenty of fluids, and a lukewarm bath may help children with low-grade fever.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Fever.
    https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/f/fever.html
  2. Upper Respiratory Tract Infections.
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4022-upper-respiratory-infection
  3. Urinary Tract Infections (Children’s)
    https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/urinary-tract-infection#:~:text=The%20symptoms%20of%20a%20bladder,Pain%20or%20burning%20with%20urination
  4. Tabor P A; Drug-induced Fever.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3522163/#:~:text=Humans%20maintain%20body%20temperature%20within
  5. How do vaccines work?
    https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/how-do-vaccines-work
  6. Immunization Reactions.
    https://www.seattlechildrens.org/conditions/a-z/immunization-reactions/
  7. Childhood cancer
    https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer-in-children
  8. Family Stress and Fevers in Children.
    https://www.stress.org/family-stress-and-fevers-in-children
  9. T Anane and J P Grangaud; 1992; Diagnosis of tuberculosis in children.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12345139/
  10. Autoimmune Diseases | Symptoms & Causes.
    https://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/a/autoimmune-diseases/symptoms-and-causes
  11. Meningitis.
    https://dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/diseases-and-conditions/diseases-a-z-list/meningitis.html
  12. Sahib El. Radhi A.; Fever in Common Infectious Diseases.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7122655/
  13. Symptoms & Causes of Bladder Infection in Children.
    https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/urinary-tract-infections-in-children/symptoms-causes
  14. Kids’ Fever: When to Worry
    https://health.clevelandclinic.org/kids-fevers-when-to-worry-when-to-relax/
  15. Signs And Symptoms Of Cancer.
    https://www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/signs-and-symptoms-of-cancer.html/
  16. Fever
    https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/f/fever.html
  17. Fever
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/10880-fever
  18. Aspirin.
    https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/treatments/drugs/aspirin/
  19. How long am I contagious?
    https://vitalrecord.tamhsc.edu/how-long-am-i-contagious/
  20. Top 5 fever myths and facts
    https://www.texaschildrens.org/blog/2016/11/top-5-fever-myths-and-facts
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Sindusha MS

Sindusha is a clinical nutritionist with over two years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She did her Masters in Food Science and Nutrition from Avinashilingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education for Women and has qualified UGC-NET. She interned as a quality control analyst and as a dietitian during her graduation. She was a part of several... more

Dr. Kishor Tewary

(MD)
Dr. Kishor Tewary is a senior consultant pediatrician with a special interest in pediatric urology and nephrology. After obtaining his MD from Patna University in 1989, Dr. Tewary served at Holy Family Hospital, Patna as a consultant pediatrician and nephrologist till 1996. He moved to the UK in 1997 for advanced training and has been practicing there since 2007. He... more

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