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January 18, 2018  |  Login
 
Fever
 
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

A fever is usually regarded as a symptom of an acute infection or an underlying illness. It is the body's way of stimulating the immune system or accelerating detoxification. Anyone with an elevated body temperature at least 1 degree above 98.6 degrees F is said to have a fever. However, in babies, the healthy body temperature can vary from 97 to 100 degrees F because their body temperatures are not yet developed. In healthy children, body temperatures can fluctuate by 2 degrees above or below 98.6 degrees F. The amount of clothing one is wearing, as well as the amount of activity, can influence one's body temperature. Often, a fever is accompanied by a flush to the face and sweat beads on the forehead.

Fevers are often a cause for worry, especially for parents, but they should be regarded as both friend and foe. When a child has a mild fever, it could be a signal that the child's natural defense system is waging a war against an invading microbe. As the army of white blood cells battles, the cells release chemicals called pyrogens. These pyrogens activate the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that serves as the body's thermostat regulator, to turn on the internal heat and raise the body temperature to fight off invaders (many microbes start to die at around 102 degrees F). When this occurs, heat is lost through the skin, and the blood vessels dilate.

The onset of a high fever may lead to a febrile seizure in some children and adults. Their muscles become rigid, and they experience convulsions or even loss of consciousness for up to fifteen minutes. This is an emergency situation that requires immediate medical attention. Upon recovering, a child may sleep for a long time. As horrific as these are to witness, febrile seizures rarely develop into epilepsy or cause permanent harm to the child.

People with temperatures above 102 degrees F may require medical intervention. If your child is younger than three months of age, notify your doctor about the fever. Be sure to get checked by a doctor if you or someone you are caring for experiences any of these symptoms:

  • Acts confused, lethargic, or delirious
  • Experiences a seizure
  • Vomits or has diarrhea
  • Complains of a stiff neck or has dilated pupils
  • Has had the fever for more than seventy-two hours

And for infants and children, also be aware of these additional signs and symptoms:

  • Cries continuously
  • Is difficult to awaken
  • Has a significant decrease in urine output or appears dehydrated
  • Has trouble breathing

Conventional treatment focuses on fever-reducing medications, such as acetaminophen. From a holistic perspective, we look at fever as a generally positive thing, since it activates the immune system. We try to work with a fever and not necessarily suppress it, unless it is too high or the patient is very uncomfortable.

Note: Never give aspirin to a child who has a fever. This can cause an immune reaction, leading to the development of Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal illness where vomiting and liver damage can occur.

 
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