Fevers are way over-measured, overrated and over-treated.
No one likes to get a fever. Fevers make us feel hot and sweaty, thirsty, woozy and generally lousy. We may get chills and shiver, have a headache, feel confused and even hallucinate. Our first reaction is to get the fever down and feel better again. However, it’s important to avoid overreacting and to understand what a fever really means.
Fever itself is not dangerous. Research shows that even a high fever does not cause brain damage, as once was thought. When we get a fever, the increase in body temperature is simply a natural reaction of our immune system as it attacks bacteria and viruses. Teething is usually not the cause of a fever. Fever indicates that we are fighting an infection, which is a good thing. The only reason to treat a fever is simply for comfort. If the patient already is comfortable, the fever doesn’t need to be treated.
Identifying and treating the underlying disease are the main concerns, rather than the fever.
However, fever is medically significant in a few situations. Fever is an important consideration in someone who is on chemotherapy, has a compromised immune system or is less than two months old.
How high is high?
Fever is defined as a core body temperature at or above 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a myth that some children normally have a low body temperature and, therefore, run a fever at a lower temperature, such as 99 degrees. The fact is that everyone’s temperature varies a degree or more throughout the day.
The most accurate way to measure the body’s core temperature is by using a rectal thermometer. Since a highly accurate measurement of fever is usually unnecessary, other avenues of measurement — such as by mouth, under the arm or in the ear — are sufficient.
You can help reduce the discomfort of fever by dressing lightly and taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Don’t expect immediate relief. The medication will begin taking effect in about 30 minutes to one hour. There is no need to alternate acetaminophen and ibuprofen; this is confusing and unnecessary. Do not give ibuprofen to a child younger than six months old. If your child is asleep, there is no need to awaken him or her for a dose of this “comfort” medication. Do not give your child aspirin.
Some things that do not lower fever are: cool baths, alcohol sponge baths, ice, eating cold foods, wrapping in blankets to “sweat out the poison,” applying Vaporub or administering decongestants.
There are many myths about the causes and treatments for fever. To get the facts, talk with your doctor or go to a reliable website, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics.