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Do we really need to treat fevers?

By Dr. Tanya Wylde, Naturopathic Doctor

Fevers often occur with colds and flus and all too often parent’s worry about and treat a fever unnecessarily according to research, since a fever is the body’s natural response to deal with an infection.  Some doctors and researchers call it “fever phobia.”1,2

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When a child has a fever of 39C (102F) and under for a couple of days, has a cough, stuffy or runny nose but is playful and eating well, you very likely do not need to suppress the fever, see a doctor, nor do you need to administer any conventional medication.  In fact, naturopathic doctors say this is the perfect fever, as it is likely recruiting the army of fighters (your white blood cells) to resolve the invaders(the virus/ infection).   Although a fever signals that a battle might be going on in the body, the fever is fighting for the person, not against.  We also teach that if you suppress the fever then your child will likely take longer to recover.  Therefore, “support” the fever, (by not suppressing it) and keep your child comfortable.  You can also at this point administer certain herbal medicines and vitamins to stimulate your child’s immune system to support the body’s ability to fight the infection so that it doesn’t become a more serious infection and to shorten the duration of the illness.  See my blog titled “Evidenced based naturopathic treatments to prevent and treat colds and flus” for more details on what I recommend in this scenario.  This can be reviewed with your naturopathic doctor so that you can get an individualized plan for your child. If your child’s fever increases or your child’s behaviour turns for the worse, then don’t hesitate to take them to the doctor to investigate.

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Acetaminophen (also known to many as Tylenol and Tempra) is commonly used for children by parents to reduce fevers and pain.  Unfortunately, acetaminophen use can have severe consequences when overdose occurs.   Often parents think they need to give medication for fevers when the real reason doctors recommend medication isn’t to reduce the fever but to relieve associated aches and pains.  Acetaminophen overdose is a major cause of acute liver failure and is the most common identifiable cause of acute liver failure in children.  Repeated supra-therapeutic dosing, accidental overdose due to error and intentional ingestion can all result in acute liver failure and even death.6 Potentially toxic doses are those that are greater than 150 mg/kg/dose of acetaminophen in children and greater than 7–10 g/dose in adults.6 With the advent of many combination analgesic (pain-blocking) medications, the potential for unintentional overdose has increased.  Two concentrations of liquid formulations of acetaminophen for infants are now available, further increasing the risk of incorrect dosing.6 Dosing can become confusing for parents especially when these medications are combined with other medications in one bottle.  Unless your child gets seizures from fevers, I don’t recommend medication at all since there are other ways to comfort your child when she or he has a fever such as hydrotherapy (cold wet sock treatment, tepid baths, cool compresses to the forehead) and the cooling herbs peppermint, elderberry and yarrow; as these can give some relief for all types of fevers.

These herbs can be administered as teas or in herbal tincture (liquid extract) form. Acetaminophen can be used for rare events when your child is in severe pain or has a very high fever, at which point you will likely be at the hospital or doctors for advice anyway.

It’s important to go to the doctor if the fever lasts more than two days, especially if your child has accompanying symptoms such as poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of playfulness and the fever is over 40C (103F) or if the fever keeps coming back.4 If you go to your doctor and he or she has determined that a virus caused your child’s infection, then I would seek your naturopathic doctor’s advice on how to treat it naturally.   Your naturopathic doctor can teach you how to help your child recover more quickly and prevent superimposing bacterial infections form occurring since this sometimes happens when viruses weaken the immune system.  Again, you can refer to my other blog post HERE for evidenced based natural remedies to help.  If your child’s fever is low but he/she seems very uncomfortable then I would still go to your doctor or naturopathic doctor to get assessed.  Sometimes an infection may not yield a high fever and it’s good to rule out anything serious if your child seems out of sorts and isn’t behaving as they normally do with what you may think is the common cold.

Call a doctor right away if your child shows any of the following signs4. If you can’t reach a doctor take your child to the emergency department of your local hospital right away.

> When your child has diarrhea and vomiting AND has no tears, dry mouth or is not urinating; (these are signs of dehydration)

> When a baby under three months of age has a fever over 38.5 C or 101 F;

> When your child has difficulty breathing;

> When your child develops a rash that does not turn white when you push on it;

> When your child has a fever and is difficult to wake up or is very sleepy

> When you something doesn’t seem right in general!  Trust your motherly instincts!!!

Note: Brain damage from a fever generally will not occur unless the fever is over 107.6 °F (42 °C). Untreated fevers caused by infection will seldom go over 105 °F unless the child is overdressed or trapped in a hot place. (7)

Febrile seizures do occur in some children. However, most febrile seizures are over quickly, do not mean your child has epilepsy, and do not cause any permanent harm. (7)

~ Tanya Wylde, BSc, CPT, ND, Naturopathic Doctor

For Tanya’s Facebook page: Dr.TanyaWylde, Naturopathic Doctor

Originally published on:  Naturally Down To Earth

Find Naturally Down to Earth on Facebook click HERE

Sources for this article:

1 Poirier MP, Collins EP, McGuire E. Fever phobia: a survey of caregivers of children seen in a pediatric emergency department. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2010 Jun;49(6):530-4.

2 Crocetti M, Moghbeli N, Serwint J. Fever phobia revisited: have parental misconceptions about fever changed in 20 years? Pediatrics. 2001 Jun;107(6):1241-6

3 Wade, Leslie (CNN Medical Producer) Parents, don’t fear all fevers, pediatricians say (2011, Feruary 26) retrieved from: http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/28/parents-dont-fear-all-fevers-pediatricians-say/

4 SICK KIDS Is It an Emergency? (1992-2012) Retrieved from http://www.sickkids.ca/VisitingSickKids/emergency/Is-it-emergency/index.html

5 www.gov.mb./health/documents/fever.pdf

6 Ogilvie JD, Rieder MJ, Lim R. Acetaminophen overdose in children. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2012 Sep 18;184(13):1492-6

7 Medline Plus Trusted Health Information for You, Fever (2010, January) Retrieved from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003090.htm

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