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When Should I Try to Bring Down a Fever?

It's good to learn the fever limits for time of day and patient age to know when to act.
Some parents treat a morning fever in their children to prevent it from rising.
Many doctors recommend not treating mild fevers.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 April 2014
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There’s much debate over the issue of when you should try to bring down a fever. Even medical professionals disagree on the issue. The Mayo Clinic for instance, suggests not using medications to reduce fevers in anyone over the age of three that has a fever less than 102°F (about 38.8°C). Fever does benefit the body in fighting infection, but there may be benefit in some circumstances to reducing fever when it is causing significant discomfort.

Most doctors recommend you don’t treat a fever under the recommended amounts unless a child or adult feels particularly uncomfortable. Fevers can cause flushing, irritability, and an increased sense of achiness. If a child has a minor fever and seems unaffected, you don’t necessarily need to run for the medicine cabinet for acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

On the other hand, body temperature tends to increase as a day progresses. A 101°F (about 38.3°C) temperature taken rectally, could progress to a much higher temperature by day’s end. If your child starts out the morning with a fever, chances are it will go up, and some parents feel that it should be brought down before it has a chance to climb higher. Many argue this method promotes greater comfort for the child. If you want to wait, periodically check the child's temperature throughout the day.

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When you are in a situation where a person over three has a fever of 102°F (about 38.8°C) or greater, and it’s the middle of the night or you can’t get to a doctor, there are a couple of ways to bring down a fever. First off, you can give an appropriate dosage of acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and you can actually alternate both medicines since they are entirely different in nature. Don’t give aspirin to children under the age of twelve, since it puts them at risk for a very dangerous illness called Reye’s syndrome. Do not give or take more medication than is recommended by the manufacturer.

Another thing that can help reduce a fever is to offer a light sponge bath. Something to avoid you have a fever is getting chilly. You can take a bath or give a fevered person a full bath if the bathroom is fairly warm and free of drafts. Don’t attempt this if it is likely you will cause chills. Chills tend to increase rather than decrease temperature.

Make sure that you don’t circumvent your efforts to bring down a fever by overdressing or using too many covers. If you or your child has a fever and is chilly, an extra blanket or a warm shirt may help, but don’t try to “sweat” the fever out of someone. When body temperature is rising it makes sense to use light blankets and wear light clothing so as not to increase a fever.

If you are caring for a newborn, note that a rectal temperature of greater than 100°F (about 37.8°C) is indication to contact your doctor immediately. Do give appropriate medication per your doctor’s recommendations, and don’t hesitate to call your newborn’s doctor if you note this high of a temperature in a child less that three to four months of age. Follow a doctor’s guidance on how best to bring down a fever for a child of this age.

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Discuss this Article

anon943062
Post 10

I used to let a fever under 38.5 run its course, but it does not, in my experience, hasten the recovery of my little one. Rather it impacts his appetite and can turn into a very high, nasty fever that can be almost impossible to reduce. I give Nurofen for anything over 37.5 measured axillary. It works quickly, tastes better, you need less of it and it lasts really well. It also helps with congested airways a little, since it has anti inflammatory properties.

A doctor gave me a tip to medicate if the fever is over 37 in the morning always. That way, it won't climb higher during the day, and your poor little one is much more comfortable. A fever of 38 is really quite high and if you have ever had a fever that high you will know that it feels awful. They are just babies, aren't they? We should be helping them to feel better and take care of them not making them suffer through 100 F temps!

anon189747
Post 7

98.6 is technically average, but after seven years of nursing, my average opinion is everyone is about 97ish. A temperature in an infant is a medical emergency. Call your doctor right away.

A fever of less than 101 is of no interest to me unless you have pain in your right lower abdomen. (Possible appendicitis). I will gladly medicate you if you ask.

I treat fevers greater than 101 for comfort or if you ask me to. And I always treat a fever over 103. If a temperature in the person reaches 104, they have a much higher risk of having seizures.

It is very important to stay hydrated when you have a fever. You burn off a lot of fluid through breathing and sweating and just being hot in general. So drink fluids. Water works great. So do the fancy drinks like Gatorade. I like the grape flavor.

Personally, when I get a fever, I like to sit around and whine and complain and refuse to take medicine. Nurses are the worst patients.

anon129934
Post 5

I'm sick of different sites giving different information. NHS Direct told me that my daughter needs calpol but the Mayo foundation say she shouldn't be given it as she's over three. It also says on here that a sponge bath is a good idea, whereas NHS Direct said she definitely shouldn't be given a sponge bath as it cools them down too fast so then the temperature shoots up again. I'm thinking of doing the old wives' tale and putting a potato by her feet.

anon53497
Post 3

Can anybody tell me what the 'normal' temperature range is for adults, newborns and children? Any response would be much appreciated.

anon47045
Post 2

I wonder how much of the above "professional advice" originates in doctors' fear of being sued if just one person in 1000 dies of a fever. I find the modern medical profession a bit self-serving in this regard, preferring to "play it safe" rather than to give patients good, common sense advice.

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