This article is written by Dr. Steven Cannon, Chiropractor – Neurohealth Chiropractic
Fevers, also known as pyrexia, is categorised by an elevation of the core body temperature above the normal range of 36.5–37.5 °C.
Hippocrates, the godfather of medicine, is famously quoted as saying, ‘give me a fever, and I can cure an illness.’
Over the years, we have lost our way and now a raised temperature of a half degree or over is something to fear. Fevers have acquired a bad reputation and we are lead to believe that we must suppress them every time they appear. We are bombarded with advertisements and information on ways to suppress the temperature with Tylenol, ibuprofen, Panadol and other pharmaceutical medications. But is suppressing that temperature exactly what the body needs?
Firstly we need to look at why we get fevers. There is plenty of scientific evidence that validates the benefits of a fever in fighting viral/bacterial inflammations and it’s important role in the healing process. A fever serves as two primary functions:
- To stimulate the immune system to combat the foreign entity in the body;
- To create an environment that is inhospitable and unwelcoming to an invading organism. That is, if we increase the heat high enough in the body, the invading microbes cannot live.
Therefore suppressing the fever in its early stages with medications will often lead to the invading microbes replicating in the host and making the individual sicker and prolonging the infection.
Aspirin was once commonly used to suppress fever, but now has been linked to Reye’s syndrome when given to children with viral infections like influenza and chickenpox. It can often be fatal causing a fatty liver and swelling of the brain (encephalopathy).
Paracetamol or acetaminophen are common ingredients that are used in over-the-counter and in prescription medication to help combat a cold. These have been linked with liver toxicity and death.
Iburofen or Neurofen can reduce the fever but it is also known for effects on the digestive system, stripping the gut lining.
What is commonly seen is that children that encounter illness after illness show no significant change in their temperature and are unable to build the antibodies required to boost their immune systems from future assaults, whilst the more robust child will encounter the odd infection, which produces soaring high temperatures, look and feel very ill but at the very same time will bounce back quicker and stronger from it.
For every degree the temperature rises, the healing reaction of the body is sped up by 10%. When temperatures raise from 37° to 39°C there are 20 times more T cells (white blood cells required to fight infections). Fevers are the body’s first line of defense to invading foreign microbes; therefore suppressing the fever can only be hindering the body’s natural defenses to fight.
With most fevers, they need to run their course, but in some cases medical attention and suppressing the temperature is warranted.
- If the fever is all in the head and not spread through the whole body, this temperature can be dangerous and needs to be suppressed. This can lead to febrile convulsions;
- Infants who are less than 1 month old with a temperature greater than 38°C need to seek medical attention urgently. Whilst waiting, breastfeeding the baby as regular as they require. This is because antibodies are made right at the breast as it encounters the pathogens in the baby’s mouth;
- Infants that are from 1 month to 3 months of age, with a temperature greater than 38°C, and that appear to be ill. Again breastfeed on demand;
- Children between 3 months and 36 months, with a temperature above 39°C, and that appear ill;
- Anyone with a temperature that is over 40°C;
- For individuals not in the above categories, bed rest and fluids will support the fever and allow the body to do what it is suppose to do and beat the infection.
To control a fever naturally, there are things to remember
- Prevent dehydration. This is hard to determine in babies and children but usual signs are dry lips, dry eyes, no tears when crying, and a sunken fontanelle. Keeping liquids up is vital. Encourage drinking plenty of water or even sips at regular intervals. Ice chips, wet face cloth and for babies breast milk;
- You should monitor the temperature every 2 hours, especially in children. Watch for changes in consciousness, behavior or the onset of convulsions;
- Rest – when your body is sick, the best thing for you to do, is to stop and rest;
- Sponging your child in a warm tepid bath can help reduce the fever;
- Using a fan and putting ice cubes in front of it and letting the cool air wash over the feverish child can help control the fever at the high ranges;
- Remain calm. Let your child know that you are there for them and that you care. Fear and anxiety has been shown in studies to suppress the immune system.
And lastly some important facts about fevers to remember
- Children’s fevers run higher than adults. As a baseline, check your child when they are healthy as a reference;
- Fevers usually peak in the late afternoon and are normally at their lowest in the morning
- And lastly fevers cannot in themselves cause brain damage. A normal functioning brain and body will not let its internal thermostat raise high enough to cause brain damage. It is only when there is hyperthermia, or heat stroke, that brain and organ damage occurs. When the part of the brain called the hypothalamus is unable to regulate temperature, as in brain injuries or when an individual is not able to cool themself, as in a closed car on a summers day.