Debunking the Myth that Fevers Cause Brain Damage


A Concerned Parent Taking Her Daughter's Temperature

There is a common misconception among parents that a fever in the 104-degree range will lead to brain damage in a child. However, scientific research has proven that this is simply not true and that fevers are often more beneficial than damaging.  This is because white blood cells in the body release chemicals that trigger a reaction in the brain and heat up the body to fight germs.

This article answers the question “can high fever cause brain damage?” so that parents can understand normal and acceptable ranges of fevers.

The Normal Range of Fevers in Children

A fever of 104 may be very uncomfortable for a child and very unsettling for parents. However, this level of temperature is not enough to cause long term damage to a child’s developing brain. This is because fevers that are caused by infections do not have the capacity to damage the human brain.

Fevers that are considered to be normal in children range from 100 degrees to 104 degrees. A heightened level of discomfort typically doesn’t occur until about 102 or 103 degrees in children. Although brain damage does not occur in this range, hallucinations or a febrile seizure could result. Studies have shown that febrile seizures, which are triggered by fever, do not cause brain damage in children either.

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At What Temperature Does Fever Cause Brain Damage

However, it is important to note that brain damage can result from very high and very rare temperatures in some children. Research suggests that brain damage will only occur if the body temperature exceeds 108 degrees, which is incredibly rare. In fact, the body’s temperature only gets this high if the external air temperature is extremely hot.

For example, if a child is left alone in a car on a hot summer day, the child’s body temperature could reach this dangerous level. Being exposed to very hot outdoor temperatures for a prolonged time, such as the desert at midday in summer, could cause a child’s body temperature to escalate very high as well. Certain heat-related illnesses could also cause the body’s temperature to exceed 105 degrees, but not a fever. This includes conditions like heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps.

How to Prevent a Fever from Rising

Like adults, a child’s brain has a natural thermostat, which does not allow a fever to keep going higher with no stopping point. Most fevers, including ones that reach 104 degrees, are almost always medically harmless and create no long-term effects. Fevers are actually more therapeutic than dangerous in many cases, which is something that parents must realize and understand.

To ease the symptoms of a fever, parents may try giving children a lukewarm bath, applying a damp washcloth to the forehead, and keeping the child well-hydrated. Fever-reducers for kids, like the over-the-counter medications offered by PediaCare, can help regulate the symptoms of fevers, control temperatures, and alleviate pain. This is done through gentle, yet effective, medications that have been proven safe for children when used as directed, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

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