Fevers: Friend or Foe?
June 18, 2015
It’s what every mother dreads: your child doesn’t seem to be feeling well, you use the ol’ back-of-the-hand-on-the-forehead test, and sure enough, your little one has a fever.
Do you reach for the phone to call the doc? The medicine cabinet for the Tylenol? What do you do?
If you’re like me, my first reaction is “let’s fix this NOW.” OD the Tylenol. Get a chilly bath going. Beg for that doctor’s appointment later today. Check, did my job. My little one will be better in no time.
But, are we doing the right thing? What really is a fever, what’s it doing in our bodies, and what should we do about it?
My son first teethed at two months. Add troubled breastfeeding and no family or partner help onto that and I was a pretty stressed-out mama. So, when he developed a fever when teething, I did what any mom does. Crack out the baby Tylenol. I knew I wasn’t doing the right thing, but how else would I get some sleep? I hated seeing him in discomfort.
I greatly regret responding to a fever with Tylenol after recent studies show its dangers in children (1), but I also knew better than to bring down his fever. I knew instinctively that a fever has to be a good thing, and my reaction to bring it down was mostly based on my worry and fear (and the three hours of sleep I hoped to get that night).
A fever, in its simplest definition, is your body’s immune system reacting to an infection. Your body heats up to kill the bacteria or virus. When we bring down our fevers, we are telling our bodies to not fight the invader, which is why as soon as the medication wears off, we see the fever come back again, sometimes with a vengence. Studies show we are likely making our illness last longer and worsen when we reduce our fevers.
In addition, traditional fever reducers (Tylenol, Advil, Motrin) have to be metabolized by our bodies, making your body work harder when it least needs to. Also, these come with a nasty list of side effects including liver failure.
When you bring down a fever unnaturally, it is more likely to creep up to unnatural levels, such as the case with febrile seizures. It is very rare for a fever to ever reach above 107 degrees (febrile seizure territory) naturally.
So what should you do?
Assess whether your child has additional symptoms, such as a cough, stuffy nose, red eyes, vomiting or diarrhea, or is lethargic. I’ve made myself a list of symptoms which I feel call for a doctor’s appointment. This helps me keep my emotions in check when a 99 degree fever with absolutely no other symptoms lasting 24 minutes gets the best of me. In general, fevers over 103-104 degrees, any signs of lethargy, a wet-cough or other respiratory issues(mucus in lungs), or if your child cannot keep down solids or liquids for a few hours are causes for real concern. You also want to be sure you are not experiencing heat poisoning, a toxin-related fever, or severe dehydration. If you can rule those out, you may be better of sitting this one out at home.
When a fever is present, the body is clearly fighting an infection. So, cancel your plans, even if the fever is minor. The temperature, high or low, of a fever does not depict the seriousness of the infection. Even with a minor fever, keep your child’s activity limited (but they don’t necesarily have to be confined to a bed), and do not bring them in public. Studies show a low-grade fever lasting multiple days is likely actually more serious than a one or two-day high-grade fever.
Since I’ve shifted to not reducing my son’s fevers with medications, I have seen his sicknesses become less severe (not that they ever were), infrequent (2-4 a year), and seen him fight them off faster. He has never needed an antibiotic, never confirmed an ear infection, never have seen a fever over 102.5 degrees, and I’ve never gotten a diagnosis outside of “just look likes a minor virus, not to worry,” even when I was sure it was something else.
Of course, you want your child to be as comfortable as possible when they’re sick, and try to pay close attention to their symptoms. You can comfort your child without hindering their healing process by some of the methods below.
Natural ways to comfort your child during a fever:
1. If they’re up to it, bring out some coloring books, games, their favorite movie, etc…
2. Room temperature baths (NOT cold or hot)
3. Juice of 1/2 lemon on the calves (wrapped with a cloth)
4. Lavender essential oil on the calves, feet, and forehead (the forehead works like a champ for us)
5. Snuggles. Don’t underestimate physical comfort
6. Be Positive: remind your child that their body can fight this, and they will be better soon. I have a few Bible verses which talk about healing for when my son is sick.
7. Massages, back rubs.
8. Do not over-blanket. Sometimes, especially in infants, a suspected fever is actually from over clothing/blanketing.
9. Now is a great time to up the immune boosting foods (kefir, bone broth), herbs (echinacea, chamomile, elderberry), and of course, hydrate (good old water or coconut water – no Gatorade).
10. If your child also has a cough or stuffy nose, try the wet-sock treatment. Get a thin and thick sock, and get the thick sock ice-cold wet. Put the thick, wet socks on your child’s feet, then the thin socks. Do this only right before bed and leave on overnight. Don’t ask me why, this just works. I had a number of folks suggest this to me before I actually tried it – and take it from me, it’s a game changer.
I know it can be difficult to watch your child be any degree of sick, even if it’s just because they ate too much sugar, as often happens to my little one. But, armed with the knowledge of how to make your child better, faster can help you kick your child’s illness and your fears aside.
Oh, and toss out that Tylenol.
Another tidbit: I’ve started recording when my son gets sick. I record all temp readings, his symptoms, and medication or remedies given, and any doctor’s appointments. This helps me assess what he gets sick with (which has only ever been that pesky 2-4 day virus), and helps me analyze possible reasons his immune system was down during that time.
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