Should You Let Your Child Play Sports With A Fever?

The obvious and recommended answer is no.  But I know some of you are going to let your kids do it anyway (hell, I’ve done it a bunch of times), so I might as well give you recommendations on how to best prepare them and manage them while they’re playing.

Let’s first discuss some actual temperature numbers:

  • 100.4° is the medical benchmark to be considered a fever when measured rectally…but I’m pretty sure you’re not measuring it that way
  • 99.5° is the number used when taking temperatures orally (and the number we’ll use for the sake of this article)
  • 101° or higher: don’t even think about playing – you’re just asking for trouble.  In this range, evidence shows a link to heart damage – something 1 game is most definitely not worth.  There’s a difference between pushing it and being dumb…this would fall in the dumb category

And how a fever affects your body:

  • Impairs coordination
  • General weakness
  • Alters temperature regulation
  • Muscle/joint aches
  • Makes you sweat more (increases risk for dehydration)
  • Headache
  • Impairs concentration
  • Dehydrates you
  • Feel lethargic

As you can see, a fever really messes around with the body and can have a big effect on your child’s performance and potentially put them at more risk for injury, so don’t underestimate a fever.

Now, let’s discuss when you should NOT let your child play.  And in case you haven’t noticed, I’m placing an emphasis on not playing because it’s the smart thing to do if your child has a fever.

When NOT To Let Your Child Play

  • > 101° fever (see above)
  • it’s something contagious (don’t put his/her teammates’ health at risk and make them sick)
  • vomiting in the past 24 hours
  • has not eaten adequately for the previous 24 hours
    • the body needs proper energy to perform athletically
  • has not drank adequate fluids for the previous 24-48 hours
    • if not, increases risk for dehydration and more serious illnesses
    • this is especially important for outdoor sports during the hot and/or humid weather

IMPORTANT – When To Seek Medical Attention

  • Temperature is 103° F or higher
  • Fever has lasted more than three days
  • Seek immediate medical attention if any of these signs or symptoms accompanies a fever:
    • Severe headache
    • Severe throat swelling
    • Unusual skin rash, especially if the rash rapidly worsens
    • Unusual sensitivity to bright light
    • Stiff neck & pain when you bend your head forward
    • Mental confusion
    • Persistent vomiting
    • Difficulty breathing or chest pain
    • Extreme irritability
    • Abdominal pain or pain when urinating
    • Seizure
    • Any other unexplained signs or symptoms

So your child doesn’t fall into any of those categories and you decided you’re going to let them play. Here are some recommendations for how to give them the best chance of performing well and not increasing their chance for injury or further illness.

What To Do Before They Play

  • Have them eat as much as they can tolerate (that day)
    • The whole “feed a cold, starve a fever” line is bullshit.  When anyone is sick, they should try to eat as nutritiously as possible to give the body the energy it needs to fight the infection/virus
    • I understand they might not have that much of an appetite, but they need to get energy in their body to have that available while playing.  Otherwise, they’ll likely “crash” at some point during the game/competition.
    • And to be clear, I’m not saying force-feed them food; just make sure they are eating.  If they can’t tolerate food, they shouldn’t be playing.
  • Ensure proper hydration
    • a fever dehydrates the body and if they aren’t replenishing the fluids lost, they’ll be at risk for a heat-related illness, get fatigued rapidly, and/or put themselves at risk for getting injured
    • for an article on proper hydration, read my prior post here
      • and remember that post was directed towards healthy people, so if your son/daughter has a fever, they will likely need even more fluids
    • a sports drink (i.e. Gatorade) may be a good choice in this situation because it contains some carbohydrates to help replenish energy stores
  • Make sure THEY actually want to play and it’s not you forcing them to
    • if they really don’t want to play, then their effort will be sub-par and it’s not worth it to their health and their teammates

What To Do While They Are Playing

  • Monitor them continuously
    • this obviously means you should be present – this would not be one of those times you miss the game or just drop them off
    • look for signs of abnormal fatigue, lethargy, mental errors, etc. – and don’t be afraid to pull them.
    • take their temperature at intervals throughout the game
  • Drink plenty of fluids
    • I recommend ~8 oz. every 15 minutes – again, a sports drink might be a better alternative because it provides some carbohydrates for energy
    • if they’re drinking water, I recommend adding a pinch of sea salt (not table salt) to provide electrolytes
  • If possible, talk with the coach to figure out a plan that will give your son/daughter some breaks

What To Do After Playing

  • Continue hydrating (16 oz. of water for every pound lost while playing)
  • Eat a light post-game snack
    • something that contains some carbs and protein is ideal
  • Get adequate rest/sleep
    • good, quality sleep is vital to recovery – especially when you are sick

Remember, if you make your child’s body split its energy and resources between the infection/virus and exercise, your child will most likely be sick longer.  So you really have to weigh the pros & cons to letting your child play – what do they have to gain/lose by playing vs. not playing.

Ultimately, it’s your decision if you want to let your sick son/daughter play sports.  Hopefully, this article helps you make that decision and/or make sure they are properly managed to ensure their best health.


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