Even as a little girl, Mother often told me it was best to watchfully ‘let a fever run its course’. She told me her mother had taught her the same thing and that germs couldn’t live with the heat. So cautiously over time, I’ve used her example in the illnesses of our own children despite what I was taught in nurse’s training about medicating to bring down a temp.
One purpose of a fever is thought to be to raise the body’s temperature enough to kill off certain bacteria and viruses sensitive to temperature changes. One interesting debate right now, therefore, is, “Should you lower a fever?” Aspirin, for example, will reduce fever; but if the fever is actually helping rid the body of infection, then lowering it might not be a good idea.
So, because a fever can help your child fight an infection – especially a viral infection – it’s a good idea to let it run its course, but if a fever climbs high enough to cause discomfort, irritability, or dehydration, moderating it through some age-old practices (not medication) can help the patient to rest or sleep or get back to play.
As Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson said, “Our goal isn’t to take a temperature from 103 degrees down to 101, but to take a child that feels doesn’t feel well and make them feel better!”
Methods To Try To Safely Reduce Fever Without Medication
- Place a cool, damp washcloth on your child’s forehead while she rests and replace it when it is no longer cool. It works like a radiator to remove excess heat from her body.
- Give your child a lukewarm tub bath or a sponge bath. As water evaporates from her skin, it will cool and bring her temperature down, but don’t use cold water. It can cause shivering and make the body temperature rise again. Similarly, don’t use rubbing alcohol (a dangerous old-fashioned fever remedy). It can cause a temperature spike and possibly even alcohol poisoning.
- Offer your child plenty of fluids. Chilled foods such as banana (mashed for baby or cut up and 20 minutes in the fridge), yogurt, or applesauce help hydrate and cool the body from the inside out.
- Turn on a fan. Keep the fan at a low setting and circulate the air around your child rather than blow directly to prevent chilling.
- Remove layers of clothing so your child can lose heat more easily through the skin. Dress in one light layer. If shivering, give your child a light blanket until shivering stops.
- Stay indoors in a cool place. If outside, stay in the shade.
What temperature constitutes a fever? (source)
- Normal temperature – 97 to 99 degrees (36 to 37.2 Celcius)
- Low-grade fever – 99 to 100.9 degrees (37.3 to 38.3 Celcius)
- Common fever – 101 to 103.5 degrees (38.4 to 39.7 Celcius)
- High fever – any fever over 103.6 degrees (39.8 Celcius)
~104 degrees would be the time to call your pediatrician and see what they say.
~If your baby is under 3 months old and has a temperature over 100.4 degrees F, you should call the doctor rather than try to bring his fever down yourself.
~fever for up to 3 days can be normal and productive to fight an infection. Many infectious agents do not survive in elevated temperatures so your body increases the temperature in an effort to eradicate the infection. It is a healthy response.
What About Febrile Seizures?
Giving fever reducers may actually induce a febrile seizure. In certain circumstances, fever-reducers bring the temperature down too quickly and cause a seizure. And according to Amy Love, NTP, CGP, CILC, “fever-reducers can CAUSE febrile seizures because they suppress the body’s attempt to create a fever, and so it has to try harder, thus causing a higher fever (that rises faster), called a rebound fever.”
Caveat: Don’t give aspirin to children unless a doctor advises it. Aspirin puts children at risk for a rare but potentially fatal illness called Reye’s syndrome (pronounced ‘rise’). There is a difference in over-the-counter fever reducers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Tylenol (acetaminophen) seems to have less side-effects. Ibuprofen is recommended only for children 6 months and older, and they both have side-effects, so please use judiciously.
Now the American Academy of Pediatricians has over-ruled what I was taught in nursing school. A new report in Pediatrics (see Summary) states that not only is there no need to bring down a fever in an otherwise healthy child, but in fact, the researchers determined that bringing fevers down could actually prolong illness.
So Mother was right!
What if your child is not a healthy child – Should you call your doctor?
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” ~Psalm 139: 14
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Thanks for reading!