Blog Post

September 9, 2022

5 Things You Might Not Know About Fever

Everyone has had a fever at some point. If so, you might remember how bad one can make you feel. A fever is a symptom of many conditions, including infections and noninfectious diseases. Your body normally has a set temperature at which it functions best. The average human body temperature is 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees C), while a fever is a temperature above 100.4 degrees F. (38 degrees C.). Body temperature normally varies, being lowest in the morning after awakening and highest in the evening. Let's look at some other facts you might not know about fever.

Fever May Be Caused by an Infection, but Not Always

When you have a fever, you might think you have a viral or bacterial infection, but fever also has other causes. Some reasons people develop fever include:

•   Infections, such as colds or flu

 •  Bacterial infections, such as pneumonia

•   Viral infections, such as chickenpox or measles

•   Fungal infections, such as athlete's foot or ringworm

•   Parasites, such as giardia (a common cause of diarrhea)

•   Autoimmune disorders (such as lupus), which cause your immune system to attack your own body tissues

•   Some forms of cancer

Fever is caused by the activation of your immune system and the inflammation that goes along with it. If you have an infection, fever is your body's way of fighting it. To do this, your immune system sends white blood cells into circulation to fight the infection and release chemicals called pyrogens that raise your temperature.

The higher body temperature helps kill bacteria and viruses and fight the underlying infection. Fever is a normal, healthy response that can help the body fight off foreign invaders. It's one of the ways your body uses to limit the spread of bugs and bacteria.

Although Uncomfortable, Fever Isn't Usually Dangerous

Though fevers make you feel chilly, sweaty, and uncomfortable, they aren't usually dangerous. A fever is a sign your body is responding appropriately to an infection or other trigger.

The most important action if you have a fever is to stay hydrated. Children have higher fevers than adults and are more likely to develop dehydration. You also need to know what's causing the rise in body temperature. For example, if it's a bacterial infection, you may need antibiotics.  If you have a fever with other concerning symptoms such as vomiting, pain, disorientation, stiff neck, shortness of breath, or severe headache, seek immediate medical attention.

Healthcare providers recommend children see a doctor if they have a fever that lasts longer than three days. They also sanction medical evaluation if a child has other serious symptoms, or their temperature reaches 103 degrees F (39 degrees C). Children under 2 years of age need medical attention for a fever that lasts more than 24 hours.

Fever itself is less of a concern than what's causing the fever.  Sometimes, it's something unexpected. In rare cases, certain medications and anesthesia agents cause a marked rise in body temperature that can be dangerous. If your temperature rises above 41 degrees C (105.8 degrees F), it can cause tissue damage.

Some Ways to Check for Fever Are More Accurate Than Others

There are many types of thermometers, and it's important to buy one approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The most sites for checking temperature are:

•   Oral temperature (in the mouth)

•   Armpit temperature (under the arm)

•   Rectal temperature

•   Ear temperature

Rectal temperatures are usually the most accurate, followed by oral temperatures, while taking temperature under the arm is the least accurate. Ear temperature readings are most used for babies and require a good technique for accuracy.

It's Not Always Wise to Treat a Fever

Treating a fever with analgesics to lower it is controversial. Some experts believe you shouldn't try to bring down a modest fever since it's the body's way of fighting infection. But if the temperature rises above 102 degrees F. (38.9 degrees C.), a healthcare provider may recommend acetaminophen or ibuprofen for greater comfort.

The most important step is to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Fever causes sweating and loss of fluids and electrolytes, so keep drinking water, but also consider sipping a sports drink to replace lost electrolytes.

You Shouldn't take a Cold Bath or Shower to Lower a Fever

There's a common belief you should take a cold bath or shower to lower a fever. This isn't a smart practice since the sudden temperature change can cause shivering. This will increase body temperature due to the extra heat muscle contractions generate. If you take a bath or a sponge bath, use lukewarm water. Also, wear light clothing to allow heat to better escape.

The Bottom Line

The most concerning thing about fever is what's causing it. The most common cause is infection but, as you can see, fever has other origins. The most important thing to remember is to stay hydrated and watch for other symptoms that suggest a fever sufferer needs more urgent medical care.

References:

"Fever - Symptoms, and causes - Mayo Clinic." 07 May. 2022, mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/symptoms-causes/syc-20352759.

"Fever: First aid - Mayo Clinic." 11 Jun. 2022, mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-fever/basics/art-20056685.

"Fever: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention - Healthline." 22 Jul. 2019, healthline.com/health/fever.

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