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Fever: Characteristics, Causes & Treatment

Fever
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What is a Fever?

A fever is a higher-than-normal temperature, also known as pyrexia, or hyperthermia. It is usually a symptom of another medical condition, such as an infection or illness. The average normal temperature of the body is 37°C (98.6°F) but can range between 36.4°C (97.5°F) and 37.5°C (99.5°F), depending on the person and several external factors. According to most doctors, a temperature that is above 38°C (100.4°F) is considered a fever (x).

Normal body temperature may vary with age, activity level, overall health, time of day, and the type of clothing worn. Body temperature is usually at its highest in the late afternoon or early evening and its lowest between midnight and early morning.

A fever usually is not considered severe; however, symptoms like hyperthermia may cause dangerous spikes in body temperature as the body is unable to regulate itself (x).

A fever is taken very seriously in infants and young children as they can be fatal if left untreated. Children may show certain symptoms, like a dry mouth, lack of appetite, fussiness, severe headaches, vomiting, diarrhea and a sore throat. If these symptoms are prevalent in young children, consult a doctor immediately (x).

Causes of Fever

Almost all infections may cause a fever, including (x):

  • Respiratory tract infections like colds or flu, sore throats, sinus infections, ear infections, bronchitis, mononucleosis, tuberculosis and pneumonia
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Bacterial gastroenteritis and viral gastroenteritis
  • Bone infections (osteomyelitis), cellulitis or skin infections, appendicitis and meningitis
  • Joint inflammation
  • Allergic reaction to medications or vaccines
  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Some tumors

Immunizations

Children can have a mild fever for up to two days after certain vaccinations. Teething can cause a small increase in an infant’s temperature, but not generally above 37.8°C (100°F).

Inflammatory or Autoimmune Conditions

Inflammatory or autoimmune conditions can also cause fevers, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; periarteritis nodosa or vasculitis; arthritis and connective tissue conditions such as systematic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Cancer

Other diseases that cause fever include leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (x, x).

Reaction to Medications

Fevers may also be a sign of thrombophlebitis or blood clots and react to some antibiotics, seizure medicines and antihistamines.

Infections in Children

The leading cause of fever in children is infections. Most infections are viral and include upper respiratory infections, colds and common infectious childhood illnesses, like chicken pox. Incidentally, chickenpox can cause shingles in adults (x).

Some bacterial infections may require special treatment. They include some throat and ear infections, blood infections, urinary tract infections, meningitis and pneumonia. The bacterial infection known as streptococcus can also cause a severe sore throat along with a fever. Moreover, this infection may lead to heart damage or rheumatic fever and should be observed (x).

Symptoms of a Fever

When your temperature rises over its normal range of 37°C (98.6°F), it indicates a fever.

Depending on the cause of the fever, symptoms can include:

  • General weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills and shivering
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Dehydration

Children between the ages of six months and five years may experience febrile seizures. These types of seizures tend to reoccur in around 40 percent of children who have experienced them before (x).

Infants and Young Children

Strong and healthy adults can manage a fever with the correct treatment, however, fevers can be dangerous and sometimes fatal in infants and young children if left untreated. Seek immediate medical attention if a child is:

  • Under three months old and their rectal temperature is 38°C (100.4°F) or higher
  • Between the ages of three and six months with a rectal temperature of 38.9°C (102°F), and seems unusually lethargic, uncomfortable or irritable or their temperature is higher than 38.9°C (102°F)
  • Between the ages of six months and two years with a rectal temperature higher than 38.9°C (102°F) that has lasted more than one day
  • Irritable or listless, vomits continually, has a severe stomachache or headache or has other symptoms causing severe discomfort
  • Has a fever lasting more than three days

Adults

If you have a temperature of 39.4°C (103°F) or higher and are experiencing the following symptoms, consult a doctor:

  • Severe headaches
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Mental confusion
  • Chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Pain when urinating or abdominal pain
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Stiff neck
  • Pain when bending your head forward
  • Unusual reaction to bright light
  • Strange skin rash, particularly if the rash quickly worsens
Fever Symptoms

Treatment for Fever

For mild fever, a doctor may not recommend any treatment to bring the body temperature down as a slight fever can sometimes help to kill the microbes making you ill.

Over the Counter Medications

Over the counter medicine like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil) may help with a mild fever. Of course, always adhere to the recommended dosage as per the label instructions if you are self-medicating or as the doctor prescribes.

Take care to avoid overdosing as long-term use or high doses of acetaminophen or ibuprofen may cause kidney or liver damage. Overdoses of such medications may also be fatal (x). Avoid giving aspirin to children as it can cause a rare, but sometimes lethal disorder called Reye’s syndrome (x).

Prescription Medications

Antibiotics may be prescribed for a severe fever, particularly if a doctor suspects a bacterial infection, like strep throat or pneumonia. Antibiotics don’t treat viral illnesses, but some antiviral drugs will treat specific viral ailments. Drink plenty of water and rest.

Treatment of Infants

Babies, particularly those under 28 days old, should be hospitalized for treatment of fever as it may be a sign of a severe infection that needs intravenous medication and 24/7 monitoring.

Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies

When suffering from a fever, try the following remedies for comfort and relief:

Drink Lots of Fluids

Fever may cause dehydration, so drink plenty of water, juice and broth. For children under the age of one, an oral rehydration solution like Pedialyte helps to replenish lost electrolytes and minerals.

Eat Bland, Mild Foods

When suffering from a fever, you tend to lose your appetite. Eating bland, mild foods can be beneficial, particularly if vomiting occurs. These may include simple broth, chicken soup and oatmeal. Children will enjoy fruit juice popsicles, which will help replenish lost sugars and vitamins. Try to eat unrefined, low-sugar foods (x).

Get Ample Rest

Plenty of rest and sleep will help the body heal faster. In fact, sleep triggers the secretion of hormones in the brain that promote the growth of new tissue and produces new white blood cells that attack bacteria and viruses, enabling the body to defend and heal itself. Try and get at least eight hours of sleep each night.

Stay Cool

Help keep the body temperature down by staying cool. Place a wet cloth on your forehead, sleep with a light sheet or blanket and keep the room temperature cool.

Supplements for Fever

Using supplements will help your body manage a fever while strengthening and supporting your immune system to heal faster. Supplements for the treatment of fever may include:

NAC (N-Acetyl L-Cysteine)

This amino acid synthesizes glutathione, a vital antioxidant. Not only does it support digestion, but it also boosts healthy liver function and maintains healthy levels of blood sugar. The recommended dosage of N-acetyl L-cysteine is 600 milligrams, three times daily, or as instructed by a doctor.

White Willow Bark Extract Powder

White willow bark helps to relieve pain caused by back problems, headaches, and joint inflammation. The recommended dosage is 400-1,600 milligrams daily.

Vitamin C Powder

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant for fighting viral infections. The recommended dosage is around 1,000 milligrams, daily.

Andrographis Powder

Andrographis is believed to help boost immune function and alleviate problems linked to the common cold. The recommended dosage is 800 milligrams of powder a day, or as instructed by your doctor (x).

Elderberry Extract Powder

This supplement is believed to promote a healthy digestive system and enhance urinary tract health. It contains many nutrients like vitamin C and A, as well as beneficial anthocyanins. Take 1,000-3,000 milligrams of elderberry extract powder per day, or as instructed by your physician.

Echinacea Extract Powder

Echinacea extract powder acts as an anti-inflammatory and helps boost immune health. The daily recommended dosage is 450 milligrams, once or twice a day, or as instructed by your doctor.

Butterbur Extract Powder

Butterbur extract is typically used for pain, headache and allergy relief. Take 150 milligrams daily with plenty of water. It is recommended the extract be taken for three to four months before gradually reducing the dose to experience maximum benefits.

Chamomile Extract

Chamomile is well known for its calming effects. When used orally and topically, chamomile has anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine, and anti-anxiety effects. Take 800 milligrams of chamomile extract powder with water once or twice per day, or as instructed by your physician.

The Bottom Line

Fever is also called high temperature, pyrexia or hyperthermia. It refers to a higher than average body temperature and can affect both adults and children. A temporary rise in body temperature may help your body counteract illness. A severe fever, however, may indicate a more serious medical condition and medical consultation is advised.

A fever is usually the symptom or byproduct of an underlying medical condition, such as an infection. According to most doctors, a body temperature that’s higher than 38°C (100.4°F) is a fever sign. Symptoms of fever include headaches, chills and shivering followed by sweating, weakness, loss of appetite, muscle aches and pains and dehydration. However, fever can be treated by drinking plenty of water, getting lots of rest, staying cool and hydrated, eating mild and bland foods and taking over the counter or prescribed medicines as recommended by your doctor.

About the author

Haron Omaita


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