Fever does not always need to be treated; an elevated temperature can play an important role in fighting infection.
By definition, fever is an internal body temperature that’s higher than the “normal range.” Specifically, that means greater than 100°F or 37.8°C if taken orally or greater than 100.4°F or 38°C when measured rectally.
Fever can be a source of anxiety, especially among parents where their children are concerned. Their concern arises from a misconception that fever itself is a disease rather than a symptom of illness. Worrying about fever may in turn lead to excessive monitoring and over treatment.
The truth, of course, is that fever is the body’s protective mechanism for fighting infection. An elevated temperature enhances a number of components of the immune system, such as increasing T-cell proliferation.
Fever helps to stop, slow or kill viruses and bacteria with its heat. It is the body’s natural response to such threats, seeking to eliminate them from the body in a quick and effective manner. For that reason, not all fevers need to be treated.
On the other hand, some conditions require special attention and treatment, particularly the following:
- Under 3 months with a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.
- Between 3~6 months with a temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher.
- Over 6 months with a temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher.
- A fever lasts more than 24 hours or a child who is lethargic, has trouble breathing, has a rash, or is limp.
- A person is lethargic, unresponsive, or has trouble breathing.
- There is no need to treat a fever under 102°F or 38.8°C.
Note that fever-reducing medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can have unwanted side effects, especially if overdosing occurs. That’s one reason why the OTC industry is in the process of discontinuing some forms of infant drops.
There are many ways to reduce a fever without resorting to pharmaceuticals. With children in particular, cool, damp compresses can be applied directly to the forehead while they rest. Alternatively, a bath in lukewarm water can help. Consuming cool drinks, using a fan, removing layers of clothing, and staying indoors or in the shade are other remedial actions that can be taken.
In some case, however, medical attention may be warranted. For example, if an infant three months or younger has a fever of any type, it is cause for concern. If a child has a fever that is over 104°F or 40°C, or if there are other symptoms that the child is not well, the appropriate action is to see a doctor or visit the emergency ward.
Adults can read their bodies better, of course, but if a fever lasts more than three days or goes above 103°F, it is time to see a doctor. And for any fever of 106°F or more, call 911 immediately for emergency response, as temperatures this high can cause brain damage or a coma.
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