How to treat a Fever: Everything you need to know
Question: When you were young, how did your parents treat a fever?
Disclaimer: I am not a healthcare professional and this is not medical advice. Please seek medical attention depending on your unique situation.
Let me guess, reach for the medicine cabinet?
Maybe you’re a parent now and the thought of a fever in your child just makes your heart sink.
I know, I’ve been there too.
But you see, there’s a fear based around fevers in Western cultures that needs to be eradicated.
First though, let’s talk about this: what is a fever?
A fever is an internal body temperature higher than the normal of around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius.
In a healthy person this temperature will fluctuate between 97 degrees F (36.1 degrees C) and 100 degrees F (37.8 degrees C).
According to the Medical Dictionary:
“The body maintains stability within this range by balancing the heat produced by the metabolism with the heat lost to the environment. The “thermostat” that controls this process is located in the hypothalamus, a small structure located deep within the brain…A fever occurs when the thermostat resets at a higher temperature, primarily in response to an infection.”
So essentially and primarily (especially in healthy individuals), a fever happens when the body comes into contact with an invader and attempts to destroy it before it multiplies and creates any more problems.
That sounds good, right?
So why do parents and caregivers fear fevers in
children, doing whatever they can to bring it down as soon
as it happens ?
According to this study, 81 parents bringing their children into a pediatric clinic at a hospital were surveyed and found to be “unduly worried about low grade fever, with temperatures of 38.9 degrees C or less.” The study also showed that most parents gave their children medication before the temperature even reached 38.9 degrees C (102.02 degrees F).
Sadly, this is a fear based response that might be more harmful than good.
Before we get into why, let’s take a look at a little history.
Lessons From The Past
The founder of Western medicine, once said:
That sounds like a stark contrast to popular belief today.
As early as the 5th century BC, fever became known as a symptom of disease, rather than a disease in and of itself. In older civilizations the notion of fever was mixed with spiritualism and thought to have been brought on by evil spirits. Understandably, these people feared fever and thought of it as a punishment.
After Hippocrates, physicians who followed after him believed in the benefits of fever and practiced accordingly.
In the 18th Century, things took a turn in what was known as the Medical Renaissance period. Fever was thought to be a by-product of infection. This is understandable because at that time people who experienced severe fevers for a prolonged period of time had serious infections and some even died.
But you know what?
They didn’t die of the fever but of an underlying disease.
4 Myths Surrounding Fever
It’s no doubt that people fear fevers. In fact there is such a condition known as fever phobia.
People now fear fever is a disease in and of itself instead of a symptom of something else. It’s like we’ve stepped back into the Ancient World.
Well, minus the weird spiritualism.
In this study involving 316 parents in Greece of febrile children admitted into hospital, results showed that they feared that the fever would cause:
- permanent brain damage
- heart stroke; and
And seizures can sometimes be observed in very young children especially those with a family history of febrile seizures. This is because their bodies are sensitive to the sudden change in body temperature and while this is a viable concern it should be a concern for those with a family medical history of febrile seizures. Also, using medication won’t prevent a seizure from occurring.
Seizures, however, do not cause brain damage or even lead to epilepsy. More on that below.
Heart stroke, otherwise known as a heart attack is another impossible outcome as a fever cannot cause a heart attack.
As for death, you cannot die of a mild or even high fever.
People have died from diseases.
The Benefits of Fever in Healthy Individuals
Fever is a natural immune response strategically and wisely put in place to help the body fight off infection.
As the temperature rises, the invading bacteria, virus and even diseased cells (as you’ll see in the story below) is unable to multiply.
This process was put in place as a natural defense against invading organisms to protect our health. When we forcefully suppress a fever we open the way up for a secondary infection. This then leads to the use of antibiotics and a big ordeal of a prolonged illness.
You see, if you allow a fever to naturally run it’s course then the illness is short lived and there are usually no symptoms after the fever has passed.
Unbelievably there have been cancer patients whose cancer spontaneously went into regression, in what doctors are calling a miracle, because their bodies produced a natural fever at such a temperature that the diseased cells were destroyed.
For some context let’s take a look at this story of a little boy named Jordan whose parents were given the fateful news that their son’s leukemia had returned and that he had two weeks to live.
Preparing for the worst, they planed a trip to Disneyland to spend time together as a family. A few days before the trip they were called into the hospital and told that his scans showed the leukemia had disappeared.
And in the days before his scans, Jordan had a fever of 38.1 degrees C (100.58 degrees F).
The article goes on to say:
“Now scientists are trying to harness the power of fever and infection in a controlled way to treat cancer patients.”
The Problem with Forcefully Lowering a Fever
It was in the 1800s that antipyretics were introduced into Medical practice.
What are antipyretic drugs?
They are fever reducers like Ibuprofen (or Advil). These drugs work to suppress the fever making the patient feel better temporarily but they also have some side effects.
Treating a fever leads to lowered immune resistance and makes a person more susceptible to a recurring infection.
The evidence is clear. Treating a fever may do more harm than good and (according to this article written by a Dr Paul Young and fever researcher):
“…doesn’t seem to be based on evidence and may relate to the development and marketing of drugs.”
How to Support your Child during a Fever
It’s no secret that fear tries to creep in the moment you see your child’s temperature rise. I’ve been there and I certainly know that feeling of fear and what ifs.
But there’s a little thing about fear we need to remember, it shuts off your ability to think rationally.
What happens is that the body goes into fight or flight mode. You know, the part that says “danger, danger!” The body becomes stressed and all energy is diverted to the limbs in preparation to fight or run or just get away to safety.
Maybe that’s why so many parents start running to the nearest Emergency Room.
The fight or flight mode was put in place for good reason. There are times when we need to run for our lives, like maybe if you’re being chased by a wild animal.
But in reality, that’s not a mode you want to go into so easily because it causes a significant amount of stress on the body and stress weakens the immune system.
How to treat a fever
Now that we know how beneficial a fever can be, there are many ways we can support our children through a fever- working with it instead of against it.
Here are some ways that have helped us:
1. Comfort and Rest
This is one I’ve had to learn over time. Holding your child during a fever, especially young ones can be very beneficial. Of course, you don’t want to over heat them since they’re already hot but staying close and available whilst remaining calm can help the child feel loved, secure and safe. Don’t underestimate the power of affection and emotions!
Love offsets the fight or flight mode and heals.
2. Lots of Nourishing Fluids
Yes, water is a good idea to keep available but there are other far more nutritious options to keep the body not only hydrated but nourished with the vitamins it need to fight the infection. Nourishment will also aid in a quicker recovery. Some very good options are:
- Grass-fed gelatin rich Bone Broth or homemade soups with a bone broth base
- Coconut water (full of potassium to keep the body well hydrated)
- A power smoothie (fruit like blueberries are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C which the body needs for healing)
It is important to keep offering nourishing fluids periodically. Studies have shown that a well hydrated child will be less likely to suffer a febrile seizure. Just because a person has a seizure does not guarantee that they will develop epilepsy and this article states:
“There is no evidence that febrile seizures cause death, brain damage, epilepsy, mental retardation, a decrease in IQ, or learning difficulties.”
Keeping calm isn’t something I can do on my own. I know that every time I’ve prayed for healing my prayers have been answered and I’ve been able to remain calm and not go into that “Fight or Flight” mode.
Recently there has been an explosion of research and literature put out on the benefits of probiotics, the health of the gut and the role they play in the immune system. These microorganisms are mighty at aiding the body in fighting off invaders. There is such a wealth of information that I’ll save it for another post. We use probiotic supplements to boost the immune system and increase digestive strength. Probiotics should also be taken when taking antibiotics to help replenish the gut of the bomb-like effects that antibiotics have on the gut.
5. Good Hygiene and Hand Washing
I always get a strong sense to clean or tidy up when someone is under the weather. It’s a mother’s instinct. I also like to change bedding and make sure the room where the person is resting is clean and comfortable. I encourage hand washing daily even when no one is sick. We generally wash our hands as soon as we come back from being outside.
During sickness, hand washing and good hygiene is important and should be done more often.
When to see a doctor
With all of the above there are times when receiving medical attention is necessary, like in:
- Infants 3 months of age and younger
- People who are having other serious symptoms like stiff neck and severe headaches
- People who are having clear respiratory difficulties
- Any other known reason for the fever like poisoning etc.
- The fever is prolonged (as in more than a couple of days)
Fevers can be very beneficial to the body. For kids, its a healthy response by their developing immune system to what they encounter in the environment everyday.
As parents, empowering ourselves with the knowledge to properly care for our children will work wonders in helping us raise healthier and strong children who will carry that health on to future generations.
How about you?
How do you feel about fevers and fever reducers?