What is Fever?
An increase in body temperature is the body’s natural way of fighting off illness and infection and it is something that every child will experience at some point. Seeing your little one with a fever can be quite distressing and it generally leaves them feeling restless, irritable and difficult to calm down.
While mild fevers are a natural process and generally not serious in adults, it is important to note that even a small increase in the temperature of infants and small children may indicate a serious underlying infection. In addition, fevers in babies and young children can quickly become dangerous resulting in complications such as febrile seizures if left untreated.
Managing and lowering your child’s fever is therefore important, however, it must be noted that the cause of the fever should always be discovered and treated as soon as possible.
Diagnosing a Fever
The body’s normal body temperature is approximately 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37. 0ºC) and a fever is medically defined as a rectal temperature greater than 100.4ºF or 38.0ºC.
If you suspect that your child has a fever then the safest and most accurate way to take your child’s temperature is orally or rectally with a digital thermometer. Oral readings are less accurate the younger the child and are inappropriate for children under 1 year old.
When taking your child’s temperature rectally, coat the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly and insert the thermometer half an inch into the rectum, hold it still and allow the thermometer the required time before checking the temperature.
Oral temperatures should be taken by placing the thermometer under the tongue. After use, always clean the thermometer in cool soapy water or with surgical alcohol.
Call your health care provider if your child has a temperature higher than 102 degrees that is not responding to medication or treatment. As babies are at higher risk for complications, it is always advisable to consult your child’s pediatrician if your infant under 12 months has a fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
What Causes Fever?
In most cases a fever is caused by an underlying illness or infection. As the immune system fights off an infection, it generates heat, which results in an increased body temperature. In addition, the hypothalamus (that acts as the body’s thermostat) increases the body’s base-line temperature.
This raised body temperature assists the immune system in ridding the body of illness as the viruses and bacteria that cause them thrive in cooler environments and generally cannot withstand high temperature. The causes of a fever may range widely from common teething in infants and a bout of flu, to more serious conditions such as pneumonia, glandular fever, sunburn and heatstroke.
They may even occur as a result of certain medications including some antibiotics, blood pressure medications, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs. It is therefore always important to monitor a fever and seek medical attention if it increases rapidly, or persists, so that a correct diagnosis can be achieved.
Help for Fever
Treating a fever will depend on the underlying cause as well as the severity of the fever. Some health care providers ague against trying to lower low-grade fevers as this interferes with the immune system ‘s natural response to fighting of viruses and bacteria. However, caution should always be taken when dealing with children and infants where fevers are potentially dangerous.
There are a number of over the counter medications commonly used to reduce a fever. These include acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin. It is important to note that aspirin should never be given to children, as it can cause serious side effects including the potentially fatal Reye’s syndrome that causes brain inflammation and vomiting
Parents can help manage their child’s temperature by using a cool compress and encouraging them to drink plenty of cool liquids. Young children and infants can get dehydrated very quickly from fevers so it is advisable to give them fluids that contain electrolytes.
Another method of lowering a fever is a lukewarm sponge bath, or a lukewarm bath. Make sure the water is not cold and take your child out of the bath and dry them quickly if they are shivering as shivering increases the body temperature.
Lastly, make sure your child is getting plenty of rest. As fevers are generally the result of an underlying infection, their bodies need more sleep and rest in order to fight off the viruses or bacteria causing it.
Natural Herbal and Homeopathic Remedies related to fever
Using herbal and homeopathic remedies is one method of naturally reducing a child’s fever gently and effectively without the risks often associated with over-the-counter medications. Herbal ingredients such as Yarrow and Meadowsweet have long histories of use in reducing fevers and relieving a number of symptoms that generally accompany a fever.
Another beneficial herb that can be used to help a feverish child is Passiflora incarnate which helps to ease irritability, anxiety and pain, while promoting slumber. As a fever is generally caused by an underlying illness or infection, it is also useful to explore herbal ingredients that work to support the immune system such as Echinacea purpurea and Astragalus membranaceous.
Tips for managing a child’s fever
- Make sure you monitor your child’s fever closely. This can be done by checking your child’s temperature at least every 4 hours until it has completely subsided.
- Guard against dehydration by ensuring your child drinks plenty of fluids and make sure these do not contain caffeine.
- A lukewarm bath or sponge bath will help to cool down a high fever but never use cold water or ice.
- Encourage plenty of bed rest as moving around raises body temperature even more. This can be tricky with children that get frustrated when confined to bed, so you may have to think creatively. Try quiet activities such as coloring, game books, books on tape and playing cards.
- Dress your child in light cotton pajamas so that body heat can escape and do not bundle your child up at bedtime.