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Why Fevers Are Good, And How To Treat Them

Q: My children rarely have fevers, but I find that when they do, I get confused about how to help them. Could you please give me some guidelines and natural recommendations to address fevers?

A: Yes, I’d be happy to. You are part of a large group when it comes to having questions about what to do when fevers occur. In my opinion the majority of the confusion comes from two areas of false or misinformation.

A major misconception held by many people and unfortunately promoted by many physicians is that a fever becomes dangerous at 104 ° F ° (40 ° C). That is simply NOT true. With the exception of newborns who have to be evaluated for possible post-delivery complications, fevers are not “dangerous” until they reach a level of 107 ° F (41.7 ° C).

This information is known and agreed upon by many physicians and is reviewed favorably by the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation.

The other good news is that temperatures of this magnitude are rarely if ever reached due to infections. The sources of a fever greater than 106 ° F (41.1 ° C) are poisonings (including toxic metals) and heatstroke, caused by such things as extensive physical exertion in the sun or hot tub or sauna overexposure.

Both poisonings and heatstroke are medical emergencies and should be addressed in a hospital emergency room. As 95% of childhood fevers never elevate higher than 105 ° F, you can relax and let your attention go from fear of brain damage to a celebration of your child’s healthy functioning immune system.

Normally a fever is an indication that the body is doing exactly what it was designed to do, fight a bacteria or virus. It is not something that needs to be halted.

With the exception of some non-infection causes of elevated temperatures such as teething, and even the digestion of a heavy meal, the source of the elevated temperature is a chain of specific body reactions that causes infection fighting cells (white blood cells) to quickly go to the site of the infection. This is a desirable response and doing things to decrease the body temperature actually interferes with the necessary work of infection fighting.

The main thing you can do to help your child during a fever is to make sure he or she doesn’t get dehydrated. It will go a long way toward helping by having young children drink breast milk and some pure water (if needed) or vegetable broth (preferably made from organic vegetables) and pure water for older children.

If you feel an absolute necessity to do more I have some other recommendations. There are many homeopathic remedies that relate to fever symptoms. If your child’s symptoms obviously correlate to one of them you can use the appropriate remedy.

If you are in question as to which one would be best, the remedies can be tested by myself or another physician who is trained in how to do this. If you have a habit of doing cold water or alcohol rubs for fever, please restrain yourself. A tepid sponge bath will accomplish the same temperature-lowering effect, which is caused by evaporation, while causing less discomfort to your child than the cold applications and less toxicity than from alcohol inhalation.

A last resort if you feel you need to do more would be to use Tylenol. I personally don’t recommend this although some parents feel this is necessary. Hopefully with the above information this practice will diminish. Using aspirin for children with fever and/or infection is not recommended at all (even by traditional pediatricians) as it can occasionally lead to the damaging and often fatal Reye’s syndrome, whose major manifestations are brain and liver inflammation.

I highly recommend that you read the chapter on fevers in a book by Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn, MD, titled How to Have a Healthy Child…in Spite of Your Doctor. He has a lot more details on this topic and I have found it to be very helpful personally as a mom, as well as for my patients.

One last thing to comment on is that crying will frequently increase the temperature reading in a child. I also find that temperatures taken during a fever with an ear thermometer frequently are 1 to 1 ½ ° F higher than if taken by mouth.

I hope this helps!

Dr. Susan Player