Your body has an amazing innate ability to protect and heal itself from injury and disease. You do not have to tell your body to heal a cut – it just does it naturally. The same goes for an assault from a bacterial or viral pathogen. You don’t have to tell your body what to do – it just does it. In this case it protects and heals you by creating a fever to kill off the pathogens. The last thing you should do with a fever is to try to bring it down.
It is a scary experience to see your child in the throes of a fever. They may be flushed with alternating chills and sweats, fatigue and malaise. It is uncomfortable to see them like that when you know you can bring it down with some acetaminophen and they will be back to themselves. It is so tempting to do this.
Drugs Alter the Microbiome and the Immune System
But this is counter-productive to the developing immune system. If you reduce the fever, the pathogens win out and can breed a secondary infection and/or prolong the illness.
Additionally, the researchers of this study published in the European Journal of Public Health concluded that,
Paracetamol [acetaminophen] consumption is associated with a significant increase in asthma symptoms. The effect is greater the more often the drug is taken.
Clearly, there are long term effects from using even a common over-the-counter drug that is considered safe.
A secondary illness may cause a trip to the doctor and a subsequent course of antibiotics. Dr. Martin Blaser, in his recent book, Missing Microbes explains that the overuse of antibiotics may be causing some of the chronic diseases like Crohn’s, celiac, asthma, and food allergies that have been on the rise.
Furthermore, researchers in this study published in Gut concluded that,
The results demonstrate that ABs [antibiotics] targeting specific pathogenic infections and diseases may alter gut microbial ecology and interactions with host metabolism at a much higher level than previously assumed.
We have been lead to believe that antibiotics are safe. But clearly, they can change the microbiome – the very center of the health of the body – and cause unforeseen long term consequences.
The Purpose of a Fever
A fever is your body’s innate wisdom protecting you from outside invaders. When you get a fever it shows that your immune system is working as it should – protecting you. The heat of a fever slows down the multiplication of pathogens and allows the various arms of the immune system to get into gear and fight them off.
Allowing a child to experience a fever protects them from secondary infections, a prolonged illness and trips to the doctor which likely leads to antibiotics. Even just one series of antibiotics is known to change the microbiome in a negative way.
The ideal range for a fever to do its job is 102 – 103 degrees F. This may last for just a few hours and then reduce on its own and it may spike a few times. Between 4 and 6 in the afternoon is the time for the highest fever.
If the fever comes down by bedtime and seems normal in the morning, still be cautious – it may still spike between 4 and 6 in the afternoon. A child should stay home from school one day after the fever comes down just to be sure they are well. A fever is very depleting and they should spend that extra day rehydrating with broth, soups and teas, eating and resting.
While a fever between 102 – 103 degrees F is optimal, if it goes higher, it needs to be managed.
I remember my son’s first fever. I stayed in his room all night while he slept and took his temperature every half hour just to be sure it was not spiking. He got a decent night’s sleep but I was a wreck because I was unsure how high to let it go.
Generally, the digital thermometers available now are cheap and accurate. The most accurate method is rectally but not as convenient as oral (if they are old enough – usually 4 to 5 years old) or at the forehead.
When to Confer With Your Heath Care Provider and/or Bring the Child In for Evaluation
If you are unsure how high to let the fever go, here are some guidelines as to when you should bring your child in for medical evaluation (source):
- Infants less than 3 months if it is 100.4 degrees F or higher rectally
- 3 months to 3 years if it is 102 degrees F or higher rectally
- 3 months to 3 years if it is 100.4 degrees F or higher for more than 3 days or who appear ill with other symptoms (rectal)
- Children of any age if it is 104 degrees F (any method)
- Children of any age who have a febrile seizure (convulsion)
- Children of any age who have recurrent fevers for more than seven days even if it lasts only a few hours
- Children of any age who have a fever and a concurrent chronic medical problem
- Children who have a fever and a new skin rash
That being said, most fevers hover in the 102 – 103 range. I remember my son having a fever at about 104 but it would spike to that level and then go down. I always felt comfortable if the fever was down to under 102.5 at bedtime, but let it get higher at the peak hours of 4 to 6 pm.
The most important thing to do is to develop your mother’s intuition. You will be able to touch the forehead with the back of your hand or your lips and sense the fever without a thermometer. You will be able to judge how sick your child is by observing the behavior.
The numbers above are guidelines to go by. Sometimes a fever can go to 104 and still be OK to manage at home. The best method is to observe if your child still engaging with you, able to drink even if their appetite is low, looks of normal color when the temperature goes down, has any other worrisome symptoms, or has a chronic medical condition that may complicate things. While it is fine to let the fever do its job, you also want to be sure you seek medical attention when the situation warrants it.
Note that there are instances when a very low body temperature can indicate a serious infection and you should be seen emergently.
How to Manage a Fever Naturally
The most important issue is dehydration. Fever will suck up fluids – more so, if there is vomiting or diarrhea. You need to hydrate the little patient as frequently as possible.
Fluids such as clear broths, herbal tea like chamomile, ginger or peppermint with a bit of honey work well. Even fresh fruit juices diluted 50% with water are good here. A fever can also cause the metabolism to go up and this can cause blood sugar to drop so adding a bit of honey to the tea or using fruit is important.
Coconut oil is a good anti-bacterial and anti-viral. If they so not want to eat anything, rub it on the skin, anywhere.
Try to get them to take cod liver oil. If your child is young enough you can rub some on the tush and it will be absorbed.
Homeopathic arnica is good for the muscle aches. I keep these on hand in my natural medicine chest.
Warm showers or baths when the patient is able to get out of bed will make them feel a lot better. If they want to sit in a bath, put some Epsom salts in and this will help with the muscle aches and will drop the body temperature.
You might try these lemon socks, an old home remedy for keeping the patient comfortable while the fever burns.
The main goal is to let that fever ride itself out with as little intervention as possible – just keeping the patient hydrated and as comfortable as possible. Let the body take care of itself. Allowing this will ensure a strong immune system. Many parents observe that once the fever is over their little ones are stronger on many levels. Nature provides us with this amazing mechanism – take advantage of it.
What do you do when a family member is sick? Do you have any tried and true remedies? Please share them in the comments below!
Disclaimer: Please seek medical attention if you are unsure. See more of my disclaimer here.