Growing up, my family didn’t see the doctor very much. I think it was something that happened over time and over many bad experiences, because I remember going quite a bit when I was very young. When I was first born, my mom made sure I had my well-baby checkups, that I was vaccinated, and cared for my colds and illnesses. As a toddler, I frequently would get sick with 105 degree fevers, and she would rush me to the doctor’s office where I was given antibiotics. This was frequently repeated: 105 fever, antibiotics, 105 fever, antibiotics … until one day when she was up visiting her sister about 4 hours from home, and I came down with a fever. She gave me medications over the counter and baths to try to lower it, and gradually it worked. And I never had a fever like that again.
After that, I had constant ear infections that I was given antibiotics for. They reoccurred frequently, even into my grade-school years. Eventually, she learned to use warm oil and compresses to help relieve the pressure in my ear and allow it to drain naturally. My ear infections went away.
After that, she started allowing our bodies to naturally fight illness. I remember one time having a stomach flu where I must have vomited 7 times or more. She made a salty electrolyte drink for me that tasted terrible, but it kept me from getting dehydrated. Her care of us over the years helped us to avoid a lot of unnecessary trips to the doctors office for antibiotics that weren’t going to help a viral infection anyway.
When I was growing up, antibiotics were given for everything. Today, with the prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria from overuse and misuse of antibiotics, doctors are more hesitant to quickly prescribe an antibiotic for something that our body could take care of itself.
Which leads us to the point of this post: our bodies are designed to heal. Symptoms that we experience are a sign that the body is fighting invasion of whatever microbe is making us sick. Removing these symptoms without addressing the illness can do more harm than good. One of these helpful symptoms is a fever.
The reason that you have a fever when you get sick is because your body is stimulated to do so. Fevers are caused by chemicals known as pyrogens, which affect the hypothalamus area of your brain (which is responsible for regulating your body temperature). Pyrogens bind to receptors in your hypothalamus, and your temperature rises. A common pyrogen that is responsible for this rise in temperature is called Interleukin-1. Some white blood cells, known as macrophages, release this pyrogen when they come across bacteria and viruses. A rise in your body temperature helps kill off some bacteria and viruses that can only survive at a lower temperature. Artificially lowering your body temperature by taking over-the-counter medication (antipyretics) actually is helping these bacteria and viruses to survive longer, causing your body to work harder and prolonging the length of your illness.
So having a low-grade fever is your body’s way of fighting infection. It may make you feel lousy and achy, but by attempting to decrease your temperature through medication, you could actually be feeling lousy a lot longer. By getting rest, drinking lots of fluids, and allowing your body to fight the infection naturally, you may actually find that you feel better a lot sooner.
When to Intervene
Is there ever a time when you should try to lower your fever?
Yes. For example, pregnant women do not want a fever over 100.4 F. A fever in an infant under 3 months of age needs to be reported to their pediatrician. High fevers with lethargy, convulsions, or other unusual behavior need to be addressed by a physician immediately. Also, if your instinct is saying that something is not right, trust your gut.
But, let’s say my child wakes up with a warm forehead. The nurse in me goes and gets a thermometer right away to check. It’s 102. Instantly, the next thing I reach for is the Tylenol (see my post regarding Tylenol here). His fever goes down, comes back again, more Tylenol, etc. However, the whole time he has the fever, he never even acts like he’s sick. He’s up running around the house, maybe a little runny nose, playing and being otherwise himself.
That was me before. Now, if I have a kid with a fever, I resist the urge to check how high it is (THIS IS SO HARD!) Usually, though, I can guesstimate whether it’s high or low based on how hot he feels. Instead of letting a number be my guide, I let his BEHAVIOR be my guide. If he’s running around and acting normal, then the fever is doing its job in fighting an infection and I’m going to allow it to fight. However, if my child is acting ill, laying on the couch (when my kids quit running I know they must be really sick!), or otherwise is not himself, then I check his temperature and begin steps to lower it.
There are many ways to treat a fever naturally. Here are a few:
Essential oils (topically on the skin, inhaled, and in bath water) – see my post that I linked to above for more suggestions
Apple cider vinegar – You can soak a couple of washcloths with apple cider vinegar and place them on the forehead and on their tummy, or add a cup of apple cider vinegar to a warm (not cold) bath. You can also soak their socks in apple cider vinegar, and then rewet when they become dry.
Egg whites– Soak their socks in egg whites. When the socks become dry, resoak in egg whites. This usually works to reduce their temperature quickly.
Hydration– Make sure your child is drinking plenty of water and other non-caffinated liquids.
Elderberry syrup– Elderberry is a great immune booster. I make homemade elderberry syrup for my family and offer this product for sale as well.
Broths– Homemade chicken broth is very soothing when you are sick and offers many health benefits. Try to make it yourself rather than buying it in a box or a can. It can be as simple as taking a couple chicken thighs and legs with a few quarts of water, a little sea salt, and some parsley and simmering for a couple hours on low.
Coconut oil– Coconut oil is known for its antibacterial and antiviral action. Take in small amounts, as too much coconut oil can kill too many bad guys too quickly and cause a die-off reaction.
Remember, always judge the severity of the fever by their behavior. A fever can be your body’s friend, but it can also be a sign of a more serious illness. For a fever over 104 F, a person that’s lethargic and not drinking fluids, stiff neck, convulsions, or other serious symptoms, seek medical attention.
By building up your immune system and supporting your body naturally, hopefully you will have more time to have fun and less time spent sitting in the doctor’s office! It really is worth it.
Information contained in this article is not a substitute for medical advice.