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Fever Phobia

September 5, 2023 |

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School is back in session! With school comes the return of homework, crazy activity schedules, and (unfortunately) cold and flu season.  To say last year was a doozy for most people is putting it mildly.  We can only hope that our immune systems are up for the challenge and respond better this year, but odds are if you have kids in the house, you’ll have at least one illness to get through. 

One of the more common questions we get regarding illness is what to do when your child spikes a fever.  No parent likes seeing their kids uncomfortable, and most want to do SOMETHING to help.  We get it–fevers can be scary! Unfortunately, the typical Tylenol + Motrin approach most parents take is actually making things worse. Let’s talk about why this is true.

First of all, the discomfort and fever that we see with an illness is not directly caused by the virus itself.  Fevers, achiness, and other symptoms are actually caused by your body’s immune response to the virus.  It is a NORMAL, intentional process that your body uses to defend itself!  Your body is literally heating up to slow down and destroy microbes–kind of like how we can boil water to kill pathogens hidden in it! 

By stopping the fever response prematurely, you’re prolonging the illness and potentially INCREASING viral shedding (making the ill person more contagious!) Oh, and when it comes to antibiotics, hesitate on those as well. More often than not, just supporting the child’s immune system will take care of the illness–whether it be bacterial or viral–without the need for medications. There’s actually no evidence to support certain temperatures correlating with a bacterial or viral infection. A more important consideration is your child’s tendencies– some kids will be running around and have minimal complaints with a fever of 103, while some kids will be laid up in bed at 100.6. Know what your child’s “normal” is when it comes to illness so that you can better know what is abnormal for them, and when things are more serious.

But what about seizures?!? Won’t my child develop seizures from uncontrolled fevers? The thing is, antipyretics (fever reducers) do not prevent febrile seizures anyway! The only thing that they MIGHT do is prevent a second seizure during that same illness if they’ve already had one to begin with. While it can be scary to witness, research tells us that a simple febrile seizure does NOT lead to brain damage and will not lead to a seizure disorder later in life.

Now, with all of that being said, there are a few times parents should be more concerned than others. Any fever in a child under one month old deserves a call to their doctor right away. Fevers in kids under 6 months of age also deserve closer observance and care as well. If in doubt, have them seen by a doctor. 

So, do we ever use fever reducers?  Sometimes! We know that both sleep and hydration are ESSENTIAL when it comes to healing.  If your child is so uncomfortable that they can’t sleep or refuse to drink, a dose of ibuprofen is probably worth it.  Don’t worry if they’re skipping food.  This is also a normal healing response!

Instead of pushing medications every few hours, there’s a few things you can do instead to support their immune systems and keep them comfortable:

  • Steer clear of sugar. A sugary meal or snack will limit the body’s ability to “eat up” pathogens by 50% for up to 5 hours! It’s no coincidence that cold and flu season happens to occur right around our favorite sugar holidays–Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, & Valentine’s Day (It makes you think, right?)
  • Let them sleep–our immune response is most active when we’re sleeping. Pushing through the fatigue doesn’t allow the body to do what it needs to do.
  • Use a tepid bath or cool cloth to keep them comfortable, if needed.  But for the most part, let their body do what it wants to do. (No ice baths, please!)
  • Throw some epsom salts in the bath. This helps to increase glutathione production which will enhance the immune response. 
  • Try the cold sock method! (We’ll be talking more about this soon, but a quick internet search will give you the general idea.)
  • Nasal flushing (when age appropriate). Use a Neti pot, saline, or whatever you’ve got on hand.
  • Use immune supportive nutrients and supplements. We can make sure the body has what it needs to most efficiently carry out that immune response. Things like Vitamin D, quercetin, zinc, and NAC are all wonderful to incorporate if your child is willing.

Most importantly, don’t panic and trust your instincts. Our bodies were designed beautifully and were made to fight off inevitable exposure to pathogens. It’s not up to us to micromanage what is already a pretty darn good system. 

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