Anything that reflects the slightest thing is wrong with a child will cause concern with a parent. Why are they crying? Are they warm? Why are they pulling on their ear? Are they teething? There are a ton of questions that runs through a parent’s head each and every day with checking in to make sure their child is healthy and happy. One of those things is what to do when your child has a fever.
What is a fever?
Simply put, a fever is our body’s first line of defense against “bugs”-microbes, bacteria, viruses, etc. When our body is attacked our first line of defense is a cell called a macrophage. A strong immune system will be able to get rid of the bug at this first step. When that fails, the “bug” will signal the body to create pyrogens and proteins to help destroy the “bug.” Once these have been created, the hypothalamus in the brain will recognize there is an invader and raise the body temperature to assist in killing it off.
This raised temperature will generally be just a few degrees, but the hypothalamus determines, based on the number of pyrogens and proteins, what will be necessary to eliminate the invader. If the hypothalamus creates additional biochemicals to try to protect the body then the temperature will raise accordingly.
Defining a Fever
For all children above the age of 3 months, a fever is a sign that the immune system is working the right way and a good thing!
A true low grade fever is anything between 100 and 102.2F. This temperature is beneficial and with most “bugs” that a child is exposed to, this fever will help the system natural repel the invader.
A moderate grade fever is anything between 102.2 and 104.5F. This fever is still considered to be beneficial. If a child’s temperature has been raised to this level, the hypothalamus has determined that this is what is needed to kill the “bug.”
A high fever is going to be over 104.5F. This fever may cause the child some discomfort and result in a bit of crankiness. When fevers get this high it is usually indicative of a bacterial infection and means the body is fighting something a little more serious than the common cold. While it will not cause brain damage or any other harm to your child, it is wise to seek assistance from your healthcare provider.
A serious fever is one that is at or above 108F, as this fever can be harmful.
Can a fever be dangerous?
Fevers caused by the body’s immune system are not dangerous. The hypothalamus will control the body’s temperature and not allow it to get so high as to cause harm. While it can be frightening to have your child or a child in your care run a moderate to high fever, it is simply their body doing what it was designed to do.
The only body temperature that can cause brain damage is 108F. This body temperature cannot typically be achieved on its own but requires extreme external environmental temperatures; for instance, if a child is left in a closed car in hot weather.
What about fever reducers?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend fever-reducing drugs but says, “Fever is not an illness, rather it is a symptom of sickness and is usually a positive sign that the body is fighting infection.” Even with high temperatures the AAP says, “Fevers generally do not need to be treated with medication unless your child is uncomfortable or has a history of febrile convulsions. The fever may be important in helping your child fight the infection.”
Since it is very rare for a fever to cause your child any type of harm, the best response is to let it run its course. Most fevers will resolve themselves in 24 to 72 hours. Be aware that fevers will naturally spike a little in the late afternoon and evening so a slight increase in temperature during these times is not a cause for alarm. When it comes to over-the-counter chemicals, Dr. Klass says, “Too small a dose of an antipyretic (fever medicine) may be ineffective; too much can be toxic.” The risks associated with these chemicals outweigh any potential danger from the fever.
The typical over-the-counter drug is going to contain acetaminophen which has been known to cause liver damage. Other fever reducers include ibuprofen which can cause stomach upset, and aspirin is associated with Reye’s syndrome when given to children under 19.
The Best Response
The best response to a fever below 104.5F for children over the age of 3 is lots of rest and clear fluids. Since the fever will cause your child to sweat they will lose sodium and water which must be replaced with proper fluids, which does not include sugary sports drinks.
Based on age and temperature a child should see a healthcare provider right away:
- If a child younger than 3 months is running any grade of fever
- If a child between 3 months and 3 years has a temperature above 102.2F and appears ill – remember teething can also cause a slight increase in temperature
- A child of any age that has a temperature at or above 104.5F
- Additionally, since dehydration is a potential side effect of fever, watch your child for the following: dry mouth, lack of urine or wet diapers for 6 to 8 hours (or only a small amount of really dark urine), dry skin, lethargy, irritability, fatigue or with an older child, dizziness. These signs of dehydration may be a concern and the child should be seen by a healthcare professional; especially if they are unable to keep down clear fluids.
- In children that are under the age of 5 years a fever can also lead to a seizure, known as a febrile seizure. While this can be frightening it will typically have no lasting effects. During a seizure the child should be on their side or with their stomach to the ground and contact your healthcare provider as soon as it stops.
The Chiropractic Factor
Your Family Wellness Chiropractor is one of the healthcare professionals that recognizes and supports the body’s natural ability to fight off infection. The immune system, like all over bodily systems, is controlled by the central nervous system via the spinal cord, which is housed in the spine. Your Doctor of Chiropractic helps keep the spine aligned allowing messages to travel without interruption from the brain to the rest of the body.
A fever is a natural part of your child’s immune system. When your child’s immune system is functioning at its absolute best it will fight off most foreign invaders so swiftly that they will have no outward effect at all. However, when necessary your child’s immune system will raise their temperature to create a hostile environment for that invader. It’s how a properly functioning body functions.