Encephalitis is a swelling (inflammation) in the brain. It is usually caused by a virus. The normal blood flow to the brain changes. This can cause confusion, a high fever, and a severe headache. Your child also may be sleepy and sensitive to light and may have nausea and a stiff neck and back. In the most serious cases, a child may have seizures or tremors.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine to help your child's body get rid of the virus. Your child may have some symptoms for several weeks or longer while their body slowly heals. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help your child get stronger and active again.
Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.
How can you care for your child at home?
- Ask your doctor if you can give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain and discomfort. Do not use ibuprofen if your child is less than 6 months old unless the doctor gave you instructions to use it. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
- Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
- Have your child drink plenty of fluids. If your child has to limit fluids because of a health problem, talk with your doctor before you increase how much your child drinks.
- Make sure your child eats a healthy, balanced diet and gets plenty of rest to help their body heal.
- Keep the lights dim if your child's eyes are sensitive to light.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- Your child has a seizure.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- Your child has a fever.
- Your child has a severe headache.
- Your child has a stiff neck.
- Your child is nauseated or is vomiting.
- Your child is confused or cannot think clearly.
Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You notice new numbness or weakness in your child.
- Your child does not get better as expected.
Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter F714 in the search box to learn more about "Encephalitis in Children: Care Instructions".
Current as of: October 31, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Christine Hahn MD - Epidemiology