What would you say if I told you that a fever of 103°F is actually a sign of health and should not be suppressed?
You’d probably be surprised, and maybe you’d think that I’m some quack who doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
But hear me out.
Let’s start off with a few numbers.
Fevers aren’t usually dangerous until they reach 108°F.
No, that’s not a typo.
108°F is when brain damage can occur, but in most cases a fever lower than 108°F, even at 106°-107°F, is actually just a sign that your immune system is doing its job.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious.
Healthy fevers, particularly in children, usually range between 100°-104°F, with a few caveats:
Anyone with a fever over 104°F should consult a doctor. In most cases the fever will break on its own, especially if the individual is otherwise robust, but it’s a good idea to alert a doctor just to make everything checks out fine.
Children less than 3 months old with a fever greater than 100.4°F need to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
Regardless of the number on the thermometer, if you or your loved one
- seem really sick
- are listless
- not drinking or peeing like you normally do
- have a stiff neck
- can’t stop vomiting
- have severe belly or ear pain
And in the case of children, if they
- stop crying entirely
- become unresponsive
- stop making eye contact
- or cry uncontrollably
…then a doctor should be called.
Fevers shouldn’t last more than 3-5 days, and if you ever just feel like something is up, or want confirmation that everything is okay, it’s never a bad idea to check in with a doctor.
After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
What do I mean by “healthy fever”?
Here’s something you might not have realized before: fevers aren’t bad for you.
In fact, as I said at the beginning of this article, acute fevers are a sign that your immune system is strong and working the way it should.
When germs and viruses enter your body and manage to proliferate beyond regular everyday levels, your immune system kicks into high gear, rallies its armies and triggers what we call an inflammatory response.
During an inflammatory response your immune system releases antibodies and white blood cells, which you can think of as specially trained troops whose purpose in life is to attack invaders.
If it determines that it would be helpful, your body also raises it’s temperature to give your immune system a second line of defense by frying those invading bugs right out of your system.
(A little side note, this is also why you experience swelling and heat at the site of an injury. So long as you take measures to disinfect the site, you also don’t want to use ice or inflammation reducing drugs for injuries.)
Your body is doing what it’s doing for a reason. Trust it.
If you spike a fever, you’ll probably start sweating, become sleepy, and lose your appetite.
These are all healthy and normal responses that support your body as it focuses on the task at hand.
Wearing layers, taking hot showers, drinking lots of fluids, taking immune supporting herbs and resting as much as you can will help your immune system do its job.
If you take these steps your fever should “break” and come down again fairly quickly once the coast is clear and the invaders have been defeated, though it can take a couple of days for the job to get done.
Don’t be surprised if the fever goes away and then comes back in the afternoon or evening.
This is a perfectly normal response, and there are actually Chinese herbal formulas designed for this exact fever manifestation. Talk to your Chinese medicine practitioner if you want to learn more.
On the other hand, if you choose to suppress your healthy fever with a ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, or over-the-counter cold & flu remedies, you cut your body’s natural defenses in half.
To make matters worse, you could be training your body to be lazy next time a bug rolls into town, making it more likely that you’ll stay sick for longer.
Letting a healthy fever run its course is your best chance at a speedy and full recovery. After all, those drugs have only been around for a few decades, and your body comes from a long line of survivors that have been doing this job for millennia.
Pharmaceuticals may offer quick relief, but in most cases the risks outweigh the benefits.
Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is one of the top causes of liver failure in the US and UK, and Ibuprofen, the active ingredient in drugs like Advil and Motrin, has been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, as well as being harsh on the stomach.
Finally, aspirin should not be given to anyone under 18 years of age because of its association with Reye’s syndrome.
Sure, you may have taken these pharmaceuticals in the past, but if you choose to take them again please make sure you take them at the lowest recommended dose, don’t exceed daily limits, and check all other pharmaceuticals/over-the-counter medicines you may be using to be sure there are no negative interactions, especially with acetaminophen.
There are many natural remedies, such as elderberry syrup, bone broth, zinc, the wet sock treatment, and Chinese herbal formulas that support your immune system rather than suppressing it.
I recommend trying natural strategies before reaching for the pharmaceuticals, (with your doctor’s blessing, of course.)
Consulting a natural medicine practitioner like a naturopath, Chinese medicine practitioner, or trained herbalist can help you find the remedies that are best for your specific symptom presentation and help you recover even faster.
If you’d like to research at-home remedies and strategies yourself, I wrote a couple articles on natural ways to boost your immune system.
Aviva Romm, MD, also has an excellent article on fevers in which she lists a few herbal remedies. You can read her article here.
And if you still aren’t convinced that fevers are good for you, I recommend reading this article on the Seattle Children’s Hospital website, as well as this article on Dr. Erika Krumbeck’s website, Naturopathic Pediatrics.
Now I’d love to hear from you.
Leave a comment and share your favorite go-to natural remedies for when a bug gets you.
There are lots of strategies out there, and there’s a good chance that what your grandmother taught you will help someone else out in their time of need.
Thanks in advance for sharing your wisdom!
‘Til next time,
Love, hugs, and unicorns,