We all have to face a fever at some point in life, be it with a common infection like the flu or more serious infections that occur every now and then. A fever is an elevation of the body temperature above the normal range. It is mainly due to infections. Sometimes a fever may occur with autoimmune diseases, dehydration and other non-infectious conditions. There are also instances where a fever occurs for unknown reasons and this is referred to as a fever of unknown origin (FUO).
How high temperature is a fever?
It is important to understand what temperature reading constitutes a fever. Normal body temperature is 37C (98.6F) but can vary slightly. Technically a fever is a temperature of 38C (100.4F) and above. While a mild fever can be managed at home with conservative measures, a temperature about 104F (40C) is considered to be dangerous.
Danger and Benefit of Fever
A fever can be dangerous because of its effect on various biochemical processes. The main concern is that the elevated temperature can affect brain function but it can be equally devastating on the cardiovascular system, especially when it is high and sustained. Therefore it is important to control the degree of temperature rise and where possible stop it.
However, it is important to understand that while a fever is potentially dangerous it also does have a purpose. The body uses a fever as a way of stopping microbes that enter the system since these microbes are adversely affected by a high temperature. This can be useful in infections provided that the temperature rise is not too high or too long.
Ways To Lower A Fever
There are various ways to ‘break’ a fever or at the very least limit the temperature rise. Certain drugs like acetaminophen and even aspirin can stop a fever. Aspirin should be avoided in children as it can cause potential complications. However, using these drugs does not mean that the fever will not start up again and at times will not even stop despite using these drugs.
In fact, turning to the drug option is not always advisable. A mild fever can be managed without drugs and if a fever is unrelenting, it is important to use as many lifestyle measures as possible to prevent the body temperature from elevating to dangerous levels. Sometimes these lifestyle measures alone are sufficient until the fever passes on its own.
Cool The Room
If you are confined to the bed then you will need to ensure that the room is as cool enough to allow heat to dissipate from your body. A hot room will mean that your body cannot lose heat to the environment in order to cool down and a very hot room can heat you up even further. Open a window, turn down the temperature on the air condition or use an electric fan to stay cool.
Use Light Airy Clothing
Clothing can act as an insulator thereby allowing your body to retain heat, which is what you want to prevent in a fever. Where possible it is advisable to remove all clothing. However, you can also opt for light airy clothing. This will allow air to move through it thereby cooling the body while heat can be dissipated from the body surface leading to further cooling.
Shower To Cool Down
A shower can help to cool down but it should not be with hot water as this will further raise the body temperature. Lukewarm water that is less that the body temperature may help to lose some of the body heat if a cold shower is not possible. Immersing in bath of cool to lukewarm water can also be helpful but be careful of a sharp drop in body temperature.
Apply Water on the Body Surface
When water evaporates, it has a cooling effect. This is the basic mechanism by which perspiration works to cool down the body. The same effect can be harnessed by applying water on the body surface be it with rubbing down the skin with water or spraying water on the skin. However, repeatedly applying water can also irritate the skin and cause itching.
Sleep It Off
Sleeping is another way to keep the body cool. Not only does the body temperature naturally drop slightly when asleep but the largely inactive state can prevent unnecessary heat production. Ensure that there are not too many covers as this can retain heat. Keep the room cool to sleep better as well as to ensure that the body can cool down.
Avoid Physical Activity
Try to move around as little as possible. The greater the energy needs of the body the more heat that is produced within the body. Strenuous physical activity and exercise must be avoided completely. However, even mild activity like walking around and doing household chores can increase heat product. Rather rest or sleep it off.
Fluid intake during a fever is extremely important. Without sufficient fluid, dehydration may set in and one of the consequences is that perspiration my stop. Perspiration is an extremely effective and natural way to cool down the body. Water alone will suffice but where possible it is better to opt for oral rehydrating solutions that have electrolytes and water.
Do Not Drink Alcohol or Caffeine
Both alcohol and caffeine can complicate or worsen a fever. Alcohol interferes with the brain centers that regulate body temperature and can also hasten fluid loss. This means that fluid needed for perspiration may be lost in urine. Caffeine is a stimulant and can therefore raise heat production within the body. Like alcohol it is a diuretic meaning that water is lost.
Seek Medical Attention
A fever is the body’s way of fighting infections but this does not mean that the body can definitely protect against the infection. Medical attention is therefore always advisable as other medication such as antibiotics may be necessary. With very higher fevers particularly in children hospitalization may be advisable but a doctor will make this decision.