BY RICK VOAKES, MD
Fever is Good for You
Fever is GOOD for you? ...YES!
Fever is a defense that the body uses to kill viruses and other germs. We know that germs growing in cultures die if you turn up the temperature too much. The same is happening in your body when your brain turns up the temperature when you get sick. We also know that the white blood cells and other protective mechanisms in the body work more efficiently at higher temperatures. Getting a fever is an important part of your body's defense against infection.
So why do we try to stop fevers by using "fever reducers"?? The concept of a medicine with the purpose of reducing fever is against current medical knowledge (for the past 30 years!). Yet it has been massively hyped up by the drug industry to sell more products. From a medical standpoint, the ONLY reason to treat a fever with medication is for comfort, not to reduce the temperature.
Fever is an important way your body fights infections.
All the exaggerated TV ads about reducing fever have led to a new "disease" among parents, and among some medical personnel as well, calledfever phobia. This is the irrational fear of fever. Fever phobia is made worse by hearing myths about children dying or being brain damaged by having a high fever. This does not happen.
Many people know of children or adults that had a high fever and ended up with some sort of injury, like brain damage, hearing loss or other problems. These problems are never caused by fever. The likely explanation is that they had a serious illness that gave them a fever but it was the illness that caused the brain damage etc. The fever was only trying to help fight the infection.
It is important to increase fluid intake when you have a fever, since it increases evaporation of water from your body and you could get dehydrated. In general it is a good idea to increase your fluid intake whenever you get sick.
One result of fever phobia is a frantic desire to lower a child's temperature! Parents have been known to alternate ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) with acetominophen (Tylenol) trying to get a better "fever reducing" effect. This has resulted in overdoses that have caused severe damage and even death to a few of these children. That is why there is a national campaign now to stop parents from this outdated practice. If you wish to give a medication to help your child feel better when she has a fever, pick one medication, and follow the directions carefully to avoid any overdosing. These medications do have potentially serious and even fatal side effects. They should be treated as deadly poisons, and stored in a place that children cannot have access to.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NOT to alternate Tylenol with Advil!
An article was published in Israel a few years ago, and repeated in the US last year showing that there was a slightly lower temperature after alternating Tylenol and Advil. Many pediatricians mistakenly took this as an endorsement of this practice. However, when asked if they felt this was a good medical practice, the authors responded that they were merely giving in to parental and school pressure to get around having to deal with "fever phobia".
This is a potentially dangerous practice that increases the likelihood of an overdose.
Does fever cause convulsions?
Some children (about 5-10% of all children) have a tendency to get a short convulsion when their temperature rises. It might be a sudden rise from 99 to 101, or it might be with a higher fever. These convulsions are not dangerous, never cause brain damage, and usually last less than 10 minutes. Only about 50% of these children will ever have another convulsion. All children outgrow these "febrile seizures" by the age of 6, most by the age of 4. If your child has a febrile seizure, the doctor would still want to check him, to make sure that is what it is, and not a serious infection like meningitis.
Fever can be a sign that infection is present.
Fever is very useful as a SIGN of infection. If a child has a fever lasting more than a few days, it tells us that the infection is not going away, and the child should be seen by a doctor. Many people ask me how high should a fever be to indicate a serious infection? It is really more important to know the general condition of the child at the time of the fever. A very ill appearing child with a fever of 101 would be much more concerning than a child who feels fine, is drinking and playing but has a fever of 106. But if you are not sure what is causing the fever, and your your child looks ill, you should call your doctor.
Thus, fever itself IS good for you. It helps your body fight infection, AND it can be an important sign that an infection is present, so it lets you know when to alert your doctor if the cause is not known.