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Understanding and Management of Fever

Any time a child is sick, we as parents or caregivers instinctively want to intervene on their behalf. In the case of fever, however, our efforts may be counterproductive.

Your child's ability to generate a fever is an eloquent demonstration of his/her body's innate self-healing potential. The immune system's response to infection is an amazing process which includes the following events:

  • Additional white blood cells are manufactured. These cells destroy bacteria and viruses and also remove damaged tissue and irritating materials from the body.
  • The activity of the white blood cells increases, and they move rapidly to the site of infection.
  • Antibody production increases by as much as 20-fold.
  • Sleepiness and loss of appetite conserve energy for natural defense and repair.
  • The elevated body temperature kills certain bacteria and viruses.
  • Iron is being removed from the blood and stored in the liver. Many bacteria need iron for survival.

An elevated body temperature is integral to this process. Hippocrates knew this when he said, "give me a fever and I can cure any disease." Suppressing the fever may interfere with healing
and prolong the infection.

Facts About Fever

  • Fever is part of the body's normal response to infection. Fever is a symptom not a disease.
  • A child may be lethargic or flushed, may have a rapid and strong heart beat, and may even
    hallucinate during a fever.
  • Fevers generated in the course of an illness are not in and of themselves dangerous. The underlying cause of the fever and how sick your child looks are more important than the height of the fever.
  • Fevers due to infection do not rise above 106 degrees and cannot harm your child.
  • Fevers of 107 and 108 degrees can cause brain damage and usually result from heat stroke or accidental poisoning. Routine infections do not produce fevers of this degree.
  • It is normal for one out of twenty healthy children under the age of five to have a fever convulsion. These febrile seizures usually last only a few minutes and produce no lasting or harmful effects.
  • Your child has a fever if the rectal temperature is over 100.4° F, or oral or axillary over 99.5° F. Most fevers remain below 105.9°F.

Misconceptions About Fever

  • Routine fevers are not usually dangerous. The underlying cause of the fever or dehydration from inadequate fluid consumption is the source of any potential problems.
  • You cannot judge the severity of the condition by the height of the fever. Above all else, how your child looks and acts determines the likelihood of a serious problem. A child with a temperature of 101 who is abnormally quiet with a vacant stare is much sicker than a child with a fever of 104 who is playing and fully engaged in his environment.
  • Normal fever convulsions, or febrile seizures, are unlikely to cause brain damage. Do follow up with your child's physician if a febrile seizure occurs.
  • High body temperatures are not more likely to result in febrile seizures compared to lower temperatures. It appears that rapid change in body temperature and dehydration cause febrile seizures.

When should our feverish child go see the Doctor immediately?

  • Younger than 3 months
  • Fever is over 104°F
  • Crying inconsolably or whimpering
  • Cries when moves or touched
  • Difficult to awaken
  • Stiff neck (cannot bring chin to chest)
  • Purple spots appear on skin
  • Difficult breathing even with clear nose
  • Drooling saliva and not swallowing
  • Convulsions (esp. first-time seizures)
  • "Looks/ acts very sick" (listless, unaware)

When should we bring in our child after 24 hours of fever for medical attention?

  • Child is 3-6 months
  • Burning or pain with urination
  • Fever for more than 24 hours without any known cause
  • Fever subsides for 24 hours, then returns
  • Fever present for more than 72 hours
  • Note: a mild to moderate fever alone within 48 hours after a DTP vaccination is normal

Managing your Child's Fever

  • The main goal is to "break the fever" and induce sweating, which is the body's own
    mechanism for reducing a fever
  • Sponge the child with luke warm water
  • Minimize food intake, avoid sugary foods and drinks, choose low protein foods
  • Sip honey and lemon in warm water for children over 1 year
  • Give the child a gentle foot and back massage
  • Make sure child is drinking plenty of fluids to hydrate body and facilitate toxin elimination, child should be urinating regularly
  • May use a tepid or neutral full body bath, towel dry with a "friction rub"
  • Children respond well to other therapies including hydrotherapy, homeopathy, and herbs. See your naturopathic physician for specific recommendations for your child.