Give me a medicine that can produce a fever and I can cure any disease. - Hippocrates.
Why Fevers are Our Friends
So many folks get freaked out by a fever. When the mercury goes above a certain degree, the panic sets in – especially when the fevering person is a child. But what is the fear about?
According to the National Institute of Health:
Fever is an important part of the body’s defense against infection. Most bacteria and viruses that cause infections in people thrive best at 98.6 °F. Many infants and children develop high fevers with minor viral illnesses. Although a fever signals that a battle might be going on in the body, the fever is fighting for the person, not against.
Brain damage from a fever generally will not occur unless the fever is over 107.6 °F (42 °C). Untreated fevers caused by infection will seldom go over 105 °F unless the child is overdressed or trapped in a hot place.
So basically, the fever is your friend. The fear comes from a parent’s misdirected concern for their child’s well-being and also a drive to relieve their child’s suffering.
Some danger signs during fevers that warrant an immediate call to your doctor:
- Fever in a baby younger than 3 months old.
- Has a persistent fever over 105 °F (40.5 °C)
- A fever lasting more than 3 days.
- Repeated vomiting, severe headache, stiff neck, extreme lethargy or unresponsiveness.
What about Febrile Seizures?
Between 3 – 6 months, children may demonstrate abnormal jerky movements associated with a fever. Such episodes usually last less than 5 minutes and, though scary for most parents, are no cause for alarm. Be sure to turn your child on his side and move nearby objects safely out of the way. Otherwise, remain calm and understand that the seizure will pass.
Children should be allowed to have fevers- even high fevers – as long as they are within the parameters above. Purposely reducing a fever is like killing a fireman who is trying to put out a fire. It simply doesn’t make sense to halt the helper.
Treating the Whole Picture
As a holistic practitioner, I think it’s important to look at the whole picture with any condition. In Chinese medicine we are taught to treat the root of a condition while also addressing the manifesting symptoms. For example, if a patient has a headache, you want to resolve the pain while also treating the reason why the individual has a headache (stress, fatigue, hormone imbalance, etc.).
In the case of a fevering child, the underlying reasons the infection took hold may vary – lack of rest, poor diet, weaked immune system, etc – and we can address these reasons accordingly. Fever is one of the body’s natural mechanisms for destroying the infection.
A likely co-symptom to the fever is discomfort – headache, sore throat, body aches, eye or ear pain. There are many effective remedies for the accompanying pain and discomfort of a fever ranging from herbs, homeopathy, and home remedies such as lemon socks and cool compresses. But what happens when our gentle, natural remedies don’t cut it?
The Pros and Cons of Pain Relieving Medicines
After my son recently recovered from a 24 hour bug, his younger sister went next, quickly followed by me. Both of my children survived their fevers using natural remedies. But as for me, after 12 hours of tossing and turning in bed, downing herbs, homeopathic remedies, and plenty of hydrating fluids, the body aches were unbearable, and I finally gave in and took two ibuprofen. (GASP!) After that, I was able to rest, and my illness quickly turned a corner to recovery.
Ibuprofen is a NSAID, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. NSAIDS are used to temporarily relieve pain and inflammation – and reduce fever. This group of drugs work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, or chemicals that communicate with the brain about pain and inflammation. Prostaglandins are also responsible for sending a message to the hypothalamus telling the body to turn up the thermostat when a fever is required by the body.
Unfortunately, you can’t ask an NSAID to quell pain without also asking it to reduce a fever.
So, here’s where I draw my line when treating myself, my children or someone else’s:
While I don’t recommend giving a child medicine to reduce a fever, and I don’t recommend using NSAIDs as a regular line of defense when your child is uncomfortable, I do recommend the OCCASIONAL (no more than a few times per year) use of ibuprofen if your child is in such a state of discomfort that he or she is unable to rest.
Opponents of fever reducers may find this recommendation inflammatory (pun intended) but as a parent and a practitioner, I believe the most holistic approach (the one that takes the whole picture into consideration) can include occasional NSAID use. When used only every now and then, it is highly unlikely that a NSAID will cause long term or short term damage, but it may give the individual enough relief from pain that he or she can get much needed sleep to aid in recovery.
Be an Empowered Parent
I love this excerpt from Dr. Thomas Cowan’s article Fevers in Children:
The most important thing I have observed in determining the outcome of a child’s illness is the attitude of the parents. If the parents have a deep belief that their child is strong and that the illness, if it doesn’t become too severe, will serve the child in his future development, their attitude of resolve and confidence will translate into an environment of peacefulness and effectiveness that truly allows the child to rest and to comfortably go through the process. The child must know that the parents are watching for any indication that the illness is becoming too strong and requires more help; the child must know that he can relax and that everything will be okay.
Three guidelines for navigating your child’s next fever as an empowered parent:
- Trust that a fever is your child’s friend and know when to ask for help.
- Do everything you can to make your child comfortable while still allowing a fever to burn and do its job.
- Reserve the use of fever reducers only for instances when your child is so uncomfortable he or she is unable to rest.
Gorter, Robert and Erik Peper. Fighting Cancer: A Non-toxic Approach. North Atlantic, Berkley: 2011.
Photo credit: slightly everything