What Is an Antipyretic?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

An antipyretic is a drug or herb that lowers fever, or pyrexia. The most common examples of these are over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen (paracetamol), ibuprofen, and aspirin, which come in a variety of forms. There are also many herbal remedies that have fever-reducing properties, and similar action to manufactured drugs. Presently, the medical community continues to debate the benefits of antipyretics.

Fenugreek is an antipyretic herb.
Fenugreek is an antipyretic herb.

Most antipyretic drugs reduce fevers by acting on chemicals in the body like interleukin, which signal the hypothalamus to increase temperature. They tend to only be effective when an actual fever is present, and they don’t lower the body temperature if it is in normal range. This is helpful because many antipyretics have other functions, such as providing pain relief or decreasing inflammation.

Aspirin is an antipyretic.
Aspirin is an antipyretic.

As stated, the best known antipyretic medicines are acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. Usually, these medications are easy to find at pharmacies or grocery stores, and they come in a variety of forms, like pills, liquids, and suppositories. Not every person benefits from every drug. Children and people with certain stomach conditions shouldn’t use an antipyretic like aspirin. Ibuprofen can also irritate the stomach lining, and acetaminophen isn’t a good choice for alcoholics or patients with liver dysfunction.

Antipyretic medications are often used to treat fever symptoms.
Antipyretic medications are often used to treat fever symptoms.

Some other drugs or substances have antipyretic benefits, but they aren’t used as often to reduce fever. These include quinine, which is more likely to be taken to treat malaria. Many of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a class that includes aspirin and acetaminophen, fight fevers but are principally prescribed for pain and inflammation, instead.

There is also an extensive list of herbal remedies for fever, comprising over 50 compounds. Included among these are yarrow, catnip, ginger and feverfew. Other suggested antipyretic herbs are meadowsweet, echinacea, fenugreek, and golden seal.

Both in herbal lore and traditional medicine, there exists a question about whether antipyretics should be used. Sometimes a fever is so high that it ought to be lowered immediately. Particularly in infants less than seven weeks old, a fever that exceeds 101 ° F (38.33 ° C) needs emergency care. Babies who are eight weeks to three months old should be treated with an antipyretic and see a doctor within a few hours of developing a fever this high.

Generally, in older kids and adults, there is no need to treat a fever that is less than 102 ° F (38.89 ° C). It’s important to watch a temperature to make sure it doesn’t climb. Most medical experts, though, point to the beneficial nature of fever in fighting an infection, and they’re inclined to argue that an antipyretic is only beneficial for a person who is uncomfortable. In other words, the use of antipyretics isn’t always appropriate, especially if a fever is mild.

Ibuprofen is a commonly used antipyretic.
Ibuprofen is a commonly used antipyretic.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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