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.
Here is an excerpt from a Journal of Pediatrics report discussing fever: “It should be emphasized that fever is not an illness but is, in fact, a physiologic mechanism that has beneficial effects in fighting infection. Fever retards the growth and reproduction of bacteria and viruses, enhances neutrophil production and T-lymphocyte proliferation, and aids in the body’s acute-phase reaction. The degree of fever does not always correlate with the severity of illness. Most fevers are of short duration, are benign, and may actually protect the host. Data show beneficial effects on certain components of the immune system in fever, and limited data have revealed that fever actually helps the body recover more quickly from viral infections, although the fever may result in discomfort in children.” – http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/127/3/580#ref-16
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 or uncomfortable, 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. We also use the Raindrop Technique when needing immune support, as well as using oil blends like ImmuPower, Thieves, and Exodus II.
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. Coconut water, meat stock/bone broth, Ningxia Red, and homemade popsicles (not loaded with sugar) are all good options.
Elderberry syrup– Elderberry is a great immune booster. I make homemade elderberry syrup for my family and during times of sickness we increase the frequency of how often we take a spoonful (every 2-3 hours generally).
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.
What to do in the case of febrile seizures
(Edited to add this section on 12/13/18)
I’ve updated this post to include some additional information regarding febrile seizures, as this is a concern for any parent whose child has experienced them, and honestly, it’s one of the most common reasons I’ve had someone tell me that they are afraid to treat a fever naturally.
I completely understand your fears, as my youngest son experienced his first grand mal seizure during an illness this past February when we were 18 hours away from home. It happened in the middle of the night, and as he had a full-on, all-limbs-involved convulsion with foaming at the mouth, respiratory distress, and was completely unresponsive afterwards, we rushed him to the nearest Emergency Room. As he was 8 years old at the time, the doctors didn’t want to classify it as a febrile seizure per se (as he was outside the age window for typical febrile seizures, which generally happen before the age of 5). However, he had the seizure when his fever was rapidly spiking and crashing, which is typical of a febrile-type seizure. We also later learned he had an active HHV6 infection, which replicates in the brain and can trigger seizure activity.
Anyway, all of that to say, we spent two days in the PICU in Texas after this seizure, and it was one of the scariest moments of my life.
A week after we returned home from the hospital, my oldest son ended up sick with the same flu that his younger brother had just gone through. Although I had not medicated a fever in years, I started giving him Motrin every 6 hours around the clock. As he already is diagnosed with a seizure disorder, I was terrified of again going through what we had just endured.
Any time in the months after that when my younger son became ill, I brought out the Motrin. However, I noticed the effects of it, that exactly what I wrote above happened: he didn’t recover nearly as fast. My younger son typically gets a fever, burns it out, and in 24 hours is running around and 100% better. With treating his fever, I found that his illness would stretch on for days.
And so I armed myself with knowledge: I researched febrile seizures, and I researched what was best to do.
It turns out that contrary to the advice we generally receive at the hospital, recent studies on fever (like the one quoted above) are showing that even in the case of febrile seizures, MEDICATING THE FEVER IS NOT BEST. Generally, they believe that febrile seizures result from the RAPID CHANGE in body temperature, not the height of the fever itself. This makes sense to me, because in my son’s case, his fever was only 102.6F at its highest, which for him wasn’t high at all. However, the day that he had his seizure, his fever had been rapidly spiking, and then he would break into a sweat and his fever would drop to 99F. An hour or two later, it would rapidly spike again.
So not only are they finding that febrile seizures can be triggered by a rapid spike in temperature, but also a fever that LOWERS too quickly can trigger a febrile seizure — meaning when we medicate a fever and it drops faster than the body can adjust to, this can trigger a febrile seizure in a susceptible child.
They are also finding that children who are calcium deficient (and possibly even iron deficient or anemic) are at greater risk of febrile seizures. Calcium channels are temperature sensitive. If a person is calcium deficient, when a fever stimulates calcium channels, it might trigger what is known as febrile seizures.
Reading this gave me back some strength, as it gave me something I can do when my son gets sick.
Calcium is best obtained from whole food sources (like that nourishing bone broth that you’ll be giving your kids when they’re sick), but I am also planning to have calcium available to supplement when my kids have fevers. (Calcium can also help to reduce the “fever aches” that can result as the body pulls calcium from the bones during a fever) We use homeopathic BioPlasma regularly when sick to help encourage mineral balance, but I also have calcium orotate on hand along with vitamin D (assists with calcium absorption).
So far this year, all of our natural goodness has kept the kids healthy as everyone around us has been sick. However, I am ready for whatever may come after the new year rolls around!!
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. If a person is lethargic and not drinking fluids, not urinating, has a 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.