Fever and Chills: Causes, Treatment, and When to Seek Help

How to Treat a Fever and Chills

Having a fever and chills is usually your body's way of fighting off an infection. As your internal body temperature climbs, you may start to feel cold and shiver. This shivering makes your body feel warmer, but it can make it hard to get comfortable.

This article will cover why you may experience chills when you have a fever. You'll also learn about how to treat chills and fever at home and when to seek medical care.

how to treat fever and chills

Verywell / Hugo Lin

Fever and Chills: Causes

A fever is the body's natural reaction to infection. When you get sick from a virus or bacteria, one of your immune system's defenses is to raise your body temperature. It does this because pathogens can't multiply as well at temperatures greater than 98.6 degrees F.

The physical act of shivering or shaking from the chills can also raise your internal body temperature to help fight the infection.

What Is a Normal Body Temperature?

A normal body temperature for a healthy adult and older child is around 98.6 degrees F.

For younger children and babies, a normal body temperature depends on how it's taken.

  • If you use a forehead, rectal, or ear thermometer on a child who is a year old or younger, a normal body temperature is between 96.8 degrees F and 100.3 degrees F (the temperature might be higher later in the day—this is normal).
  • If their temperature is taken under their arm, it should be below 99 degrees F.

If you or your child has a fever higher than 104 degrees F, seek immediate medical care.

Why Do Chills Happen With Fevers?

Fevers are often accompanied by "chills"—shaking, shivering, and feeling cold. The odd sensation of feeling like you are overheating and freezing at the same time happens because there is a sharp contrast between the environment around you and your body.

When your body temperature is higher than normal, the air around you will feel colder than it usually does. In response, your muscles will rapidly contract and relax to produce body heat. This feels like having "the chills."

Chills are more common in children and usually come on at the start of an illness such as the flu.

Fever, Chills, and Other Symptoms

If you have a fever and chills because you're sick from an infection, you may have other symptoms as well. The symptoms you have will depend on what you are sick with and which part of your body the infection is in.

Some general symptoms you might have with a fever and chills include:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches and muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Congestion and/or a runny nose
  • Cough
  • Abdominal pain, not feeling hungry, nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea

How to Treat a Fever and Chills

If you have a fever and chills, you might want to put on more clothes or cover up with blankets to get warm. However, this will increase your body temperature, cause more discomfort and even lead to dehydration.

If your fever is 102 degrees F or lower and you do not have any serious signs and symptoms, you do not need to see a healthcare provider for treatment. You can treat fever and chills at home by:

  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) fever-reducing medications: Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) can help bring your fever down and make you more comfortable. However, they won't make you feel better immediately—they can take an hour or longer to work.
  • Warming up, but not bundling up: Wrapping yourself in an extra blanket or two to keep from shivering when you have a fever is fine—just don't overdo it. Once you get comfortable, take the covers off to avoid overheating. Wear clothes that are appropriate for the weather rather than layering.
  • Staying hydrated: Drinking plenty of clear liquids when you are sick with a fever is very important. Water is best, but a cup of tea can also be soothing. Avoid alcohol.
  • Sponge bathing: Dabbing your skin with a washcloth that's been soaked in lukewarm water (about 70 degrees F) can help lower a fever—the evaporation of the water cools the skin and reduces body temperature. Keep in mind that using cold water can actually make a fever higher because it will trigger chills.

Fever and Chills: When To See A Healthcare Provider

Fever and chills are not dangerous on their own—they are your body's natural way of fighting off an illness. However, fever and chills can also be a sign of a more serious condition, such as meningitis.

Call your provider or seek medical attention right away if you have a fever and chills with these symptoms:

  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion or irritability
  • Sluggishness
  • A bad cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abdominal pain
  • Frequent urination

You should also call your provider or seek medical attention for some fevers in babies and children, including:

  • In a child younger than 3 months: A temperature of 100.3 degrees F or higher
  • Children ages 3 months to 1 year: A fever of 101 degrees F or higher that lasts more than 24 hours
  • In older children and adults: A fever higher than 103 degrees F that does not respond to fever-reducing medicine; a fever that does not get better within three days; or a fever that has lasted more than five days


Fever and chills are your body's normal response to an infection. The shaking or shivering of "the chills" can be uncomfortable but usually isn't serious. You can often treat fever and chills at home with rest, fluids, and over-the-counter medications to help bring a fever down.

However, if your fever is high (more than 104 degrees F), the chills are uncontrollable, you have other concerning symptoms like a stiff neck, or you don't start getting better in a few days, seek medical care.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do "the chills" mean?

    Chills are an involuntary action that often accompanies a fever. When people say they have "the chills," they are referring to the body shaking or shivering as a response to a fever or cold temperature. When the body feels cold, it will rapidly contract and relax certain muscles to produce heat.

  • What causes chills with fever?

    When a pathogen gets into your body and makes you sick, your body responds by making your internal body temperature higher. This makes it harder for the pathogen (like a virus or bacteria) to multiply.

    However, this can make the air around you feel colder than normal. In response, your muscles will contract to try to warm you up, which you experience as "the chills."

  • Why do fevers spike at night?

    Fevers spike at night because the body's internal temperature reaches its highest around 6 p.m. The average normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees, and this number can be slightly lower or higher depending on the time of day. When you have a fever, this number can be over 100.4 degrees.

  • What happens when a fever breaks?

    Once a fever "breaks," your body can sweat more than usual. This is a sign that the body is fighting against the infection. By sweating, the body is cooling itself down from the increased temperature caused by the fever.

  • Are the chills a symptom of COVID?

    Fever and chills can be symptoms of COVID-19. You may also have a cough, sore throat, and fatigue. However, these can also be symptoms of other viral infections. The only way to know for sure that you have COVID is to get tested.

  • What do you do when you have a fever and chills?

    You can treat a mild fever and chills at home by resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking an over-the-counter (OTC) fever-reducing medication.

  • When should I be worried about a fever and chills?

    If you have a high fever (more than 104 degrees F), the chills are severe or uncontrollable, or you have more serious symptoms of an infection like a severe headache or stiff neck, or you aren't feeling better in a few days, seek medical care right away.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Evans SS, Repasky EA, Fisher DT. Fever and the thermal regulation of immunity: the immune system feels the heatNat Rev Immunol. 2015;15(6):335-349. doi:10.1038/nri3843

  2. Seattle Children's. Fever (0-12 Months).

  3. MedlinePlus. Chills.

  4. MedlinePlus. Fever.

  5. MedlinePlus. Body Temperature Norms.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of COVID-19.

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.