What to Do If Your Child Has a Fever

Dr. Shannon Weeks;

I recently came across an article(i) on a very popular health site and was grabbed by the opening paragraph- "Fevers, while not typically dangerous in their own right, can make children uncomfortable. If you have a child with a fever -- whether it's because of an illness or is a normal response to vaccination -- you may wish to give antipyretic, or fever-reducing, medication".

This is the last thing you want to do for a child that is ill and can in fact both prolong the illness and actually cause more harm. The fact that there is little to no evidence that Tylenol/Advil therapy contributes to health has not stopped marketers, and sadly, most doctors from continuing to give patents this bad advice. What exactly is a fever? Simply put, fever is the body treating itself with heat. What happens during a fever? An infective agent (bacteria, virus etc.) is engulfed by a part of your immune system known as a macrophage. A series of chemical reactions take place that causes the thermostat (set-point) of your body to turn down. The body perceives its normal temperature too low and begins to generate more heat by shivering, and conserving heat by constricting the blood vessels, which limits blood flow to the skin and by shutting down the sweating mechanism. This is what causes chills. The immune system also releases chemicals that provoke sleep to help preserve energy for fighting against the infecting germs. At the same time chemicals are released that promote the breakdown in muscle tissue, which increases the body's amino acid supply, the raw materials it uses for defense, repair and energy. This is why muscle aches are common are common with fevers and chills. Excess amino acids also suppress the appetite. This is important because the digestive system shuts down when the temperature goes above 99.5°F. If food is eaten during a fever it will strain the system by not being properly digested, and will add to the toxic load of the body, inhibiting its ability to deal with the cause of the fever.

When the body temperature is elevated white blood cell production, motility, and killing ability is enhanced and antibody production is increased up to 20 times. While the fever is cranking up the body's defenses, it is also providing an inhospitable environment for the germs. At a temperature of around 104°F most bacteria and viruses are killed. Before the availability of antibiotics, syphilis was treated by infecting the patient with malaria, inducing a high fever and leading to a cure.

The ideal temperature for a fever is between102-103°F for fighting infectious disease. 104-107°F is considered the point where dehydration becomes a serious concern and fevers above 107°F as frankly dangerous. Most harm associated with high fevers is usually due to dehydration rather than the fever itself. The concern should be more directed towards the cause of the fever rather than the fever itself. Serious conditions such as meningitis can cause a high fever, but the treatment should be directed towards the meningitis, not the fever.

What about the most common fear for parents- febrile seizures? All the medical research I have found has debunked the two most commonly held misconceptions about high fever in children: that it can result in dangerous seizures, and that fevers from infection must be controlled before they reach a certain point, (usually I06°F), to prevent seizures and brain damage. Febrile seizures tend to occur early in the fever process, rather than after fevers have mounted, and a small percentage of children simply seem to be prone to them; administering fever-reducing medicine does not stave off their recurrence. Most febrile seizures are the result of imbalanced electrolytes due to dehydration from diarrhea, vomiting and increased perspiration. Good management in the form of limiting food and maintaining fluids and electrolytes will prevent most fevers from progressing to more critical stages. And while it is true that fevers over I06°F are potentially damaging, such high temperatures are virtually always the result of heat stroke or brain injury, not infection, and so fears of a cold or flu causing a fever to rise to this level are groundless.

What happens when you give a fever reducer such as Tylenol? The entire metabolic process is stopped in its tracks stops and now you still have an infection, but without any natural defenses. The potentially infectious person, instead of staying in bed because they feel sick, feels well enough to go to work or school exposing their colleagues to the same illness. The maker of Tylenol (and those who manufacture other fever-reducing products) have successfully convinced the public that something absolutely must be done to bring down all fevers in young children. According to a recent article:

"Keeping in mind that bringing fever down by using medication possibly postpones recovery, increases the probability of a secondary infection, deprives one of clues as to the need for further examination or for changes in the therapeutic approach, and may provoke widespread side effects, physicians should treat feverish patients only when the expected benefits outweigh the possible risks." (i)

Anti-fever medications have been marketed for use in children for decades, with drug companies spending $50 million a year on heart-tugging ads in parenting magazines and elsewhere. Still, it has long been acknowledged there is little or no data from studies in the very young to show the medicines are safe and work. Worse, some studies suggest the medicines are no better than dummy pills in treating cold and cough symptoms in young children.

To sum up:

1. Fever is the cure, not the sickness.

2. Leave the fever alone unless it is threatening to go to dangerous levels

3. Fast the febrile patient and slowly resume feeding only when you recover your natural hunger and the temperature is back below 99.5°F

4. 102-103°F is considered optimal for infection fighting.

5. Leave the sweating patient alone- sweating is the body's own mechanism for lowering temperature, so don't interfere with it.(ii)

Your question: What practices do you take when your child has a fever? (post your comments below)

(i)."Marcelo Turkienicz Berlim, MD, Alberto Mantovani Abeche, MD, medscape.com/viewarticle/410697_2
(ii) Wade Boyle, ND, Andre Saine, ND Naturopathic Hydrotherapy. Eclectic Medical Publications 1998; pp62

About the Author
: Dr. Weeks is a board-certified, primary care physician who earned his medical degree from the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. He is also board certified in Applied Kinesiology. Dr Weeks believes in treating the whole patient and focusing on the cause of the illness, whether it is structural, nutritional, or emotional. His goal is to help free patients from the burden of present or previous health conditions and to prevent future illness.


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