When we feel that our body is burning with fever, the first thought is to get rid of it. It is especially difficult to be relaxed about fever when it attacks our kids. We are ready with pills, cold showers, compresses, cold drinks, anything to bring the temperature down. But, fever or increased body temperature is an important part of our body’s defense against infections. When we are attacked by an invader, our body reacts by rising the temperature. Most viruses and bacteria that cause infections thrive at 98.6 °F There is also a theory that our immune system works best at higher than normal body temperature. It does not mean that we can ignore fever when it hits us and keep going on like it is all normal. It is important to distinguish fevers that require urgent trip to the doctor, and others that are better left alone, to do the job of fighting infection, with a little help of rest, hot soup and some vitamin C.
What is normal?
Our normal body temperature changes during the day, throughout the month, and is very much dependent on the activity we do. Normal temperature in adults varies from 97 F (36.1 C) to 99 F (37.2 C). It is lower when we wake up in the morning and higher later in the day. It can be a few degrees higher after an exercise. Body temperature in women changes depending on their menstrual cycle. Some people naturally have higher body temperature than others. But, we know when our increased temperature is due to an infection, because it comes with other symptoms:
- Very sore throat and throat swelling
- Skin rash that is rapidly getting worse
- Severe headache
- Sudden sensitivity to brightness
- Stiff neck
- Prolonged vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Irritability and listlessness
- Sharp stomach pain
- Pain when urinating
- Any strange unexplained symptoms
Any of these symptoms together with a fever require a trip to the doctor. As a rule of thumb, see your doctor any time your temperature is higher than 103 F (39.4 C) and lasts longer than three days. Doctor can determine the cause of high fever and prescribe proper treatment or medication depending on the cause.
Children and fever
Babies are much more sensitive to high body temperature and fever has to be taken very seriously. See your pediatrician immediately if your baby is younger than three months and has even slightly elevated temperature. For older babies and kids, see a doctor if a fever is higher than 101 F (38.3 C), if a child has a fever and refuses water and food or is more irritable than normal and keeps crying. Children that are feverish and are lethargic may be suffering from meningitis, so see a doctor right away.
Call your doctor right away if your child has a fever and:
- Looks very sick
- Is drowsy or very fussy
- Has a weakened immune system or other medical problems
- Has a seizure
- Has other symptoms such as rash, sore throat, headache, stiff neck, or earache
Parents are often afraid of seizures that sometimes occur as a consequence of high body temperature. These types of seizures are very seldom harmful to children and last less than five minutes. Seizures are most often resulting from sudden increase of body temperature, not from high temperature.
Fevers that happen as body’s response to an infection rarely go over 106.2 (41.3 C). Such high temperatures are most commonly due to head trauma, heatstroke, poisoning or side effect of anesthesia.
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It is important to remember that fever in general is NOT dangerous. To damage the brain, our temperature would have to go over 107.6 F (42 C). Use the fever as a sign your body is sending you that some infection is going on and see if you can do something about it. Rest, nutrition high in vitamin C, fresh air, and light exercise can help your body”s immune system to fight infection before it becomes serious. Lowering your temperature with pills will make you feel more comfortable, but will not help you fight the infection. If your own immune system cannot fight the infection and the fever lasts longer than three days, see your doctor even if you have no other symptoms.