Safe Ways to Treat a Fever

Galinstan thermometer showing elevated body temperature
What can you do for a fever?. Cultura Science/GIPhotoStock / Getty Images

There are a lot of myths surrounding fevers, how dangerous they are and how to get them to come down. Many people are surprised to learn that it often isn't necessary to try to bring a fever down at all. But if a fever is making you or your child uncomfortable, there are things you can do to bring it down safely - and a lot of things you shouldn't do. 

How You Can Help

Fevers most often occur when our bodies are trying to fight infections.

The internal body temperature goes up as a defense mechanism, trying to make the body hot enough so the germs that are invading won't survive. In this way, fevers are a good thing. 

Of course they can also make us feel pretty terrible. We often feel achy and miserable when we have fevers and just want to be as comfortable as possible.

Children often deal with fevers better than adults do. If your child has a fever but is still playing and for the most part is still acting like himself, there is no need to do anything to bring his temperature down. 

  • Try Fever Reducers. Fever reducing medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) is one of the simplest and most effective ways to bring down a fever. Acetaminophen can be used in children as young as 2 months old. However, if your baby is younger than 3 months and has a fever - contact his Pediatrician before giving any medicine. Ibuprofen can be used in children as young as 6 months old. Aspirin should not be given to kids but can be used in adults over age 18. These medicines work relatively quickly and can make you feel better for 4-8 hours.
  • Drink More Fluids. Staying hydrated is really important all the time but even more so when you have a fever. A higher body temperature can lead to dehydration more quickly. Drinking cool liquids can decrease the chances that you get dehydrated and can even help cool off your body. 
  • Take a Bath. Taking a bath can help bring down your fever, but the really important part is that it can't be a cold bath. Although that might seem like it would help more than taking a warm bath, getting in cold or ice water will cause shivering which can actually increase your internal temperature. Getting into a bath that is a comfortable temperature for you will help you relax and could bring down the fever as well. 
  • Cool Packs Under the Arms. A commonly used first aid technique to bring down a temperature is to put cool packs under the arms and in the groin area. This is most often used when a person is overheated because of outside factors (such as exercising or being outside for extended periods of time in high heat) but can also help if a fever is high. It's important to know that the fever may return after removing cool packs. You also shouldn't use ice packs - cool washcloths are sufficient. 

What You Shouldn't Do

Unfortunately many people are fearful of fevers and may make dangerous mistakes attempting to get the temperature down. These are the things you should never do to try to get a fever down.

  • Rub Down with Alcohol. This old fever reducing remedy is a really bad idea. If someone recommends that you use rubbing alcohol on yourself or your child to bring down a temperature, please don't. Not only is it ineffective, it can cause alcohol poisoning. 
  • Get In an Ice Bath. As discussed above, taking a bath is okay as long as it is warm. Taking an ice bath may bring your body temperature down (very) temporarily but it will quickly cause shivering, which actually makes your core temperature rise. 
  • Double up on Medications. Taking too much fever reducing medicine or taking two different kinds at once is not only ineffective, it's dangerous. It can damage your organs and won't bring your temperature down any faster. Because acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose is one of the most common reasons kids are seen in the emergency room, health care providers recommend that you don't alternate fever reducing medications, write down when you last gave the medication, communicate with other caregivers so extra medicine is not given unknowingly and keep all medicines out of the reach of children. It's also really important to check the ingredients of all of the medicines you are using. Many multi-symptom cough and cold remedies contain acetaminophen. You should not give extra fever reducing medicine if you are also giving one of these multi-symptom medications that contains acetaminophen or another fever reducer. 

Fever Facts to Know

Understandably, people are often concerned about fevers. And there are times when you should see a doctor for a fever, but it is very rarely because of the number on the thermometer. The exception to this rule is fever in young infants. Any child under 3 months old with a temperature over 100.3 degrees F needs to be evaluated by a healthcare provider (preferably a Pediatrician). Babies between 3 and 6 months with a temperature over 102 degrees F should be seen by their doctor as well. This is not because the fever is going to hurt them, but infants can have very serious illnesses that cause fevers and they may need special tests performed to make sure they are treated properly. 

If you are worried about your temperature or your child's temperature, it is always okay to contact your health care provider to discuss symptoms and get recommendations for treatment. 

Sources:

"Fever". Health Topics. MedlinePlus 25 Mar 16. US National Library of Medicine. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 5 Apr 16. 

"Reducing Fever in Children: Safe Use of Acetaminophen". Consumer Updates. 21 Jul 11. US Food and Drug Administration. 7 Apr 16. 

"Fever: First Aid". MayoClinic 15 Apr 15. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 7 Apr 16. 

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