Safe Ways to Treat a Fever

Mother taking daughter's temperature
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There are a lot of myths surrounding fevers, how dangerous they are and how to get them to come down. Many people are surprised to learn that it often isn't necessary to try to bring a fever down at all. But if a fever is making you or your child uncomfortable, there are things you can do to bring it down safely—and a lot of things you shouldn't do. 

What You Can Do

Fevers most often occur when our bodies are trying to fight infections. The internal body temperature goes up as a defense mechanism, trying to make the body hot enough so the germs that are invading won't survive. In this way, fevers are a good thing. 

Of course, they can also make us feel pretty terrible. We often feel achy and miserable when we have fevers and just want to be as comfortable as possible.

Children often deal with fevers better than adults do. If your child has a fever but is still playing and for the most part is still acting like himself, there is no need to do anything to bring his temperature down. 

Try Fever Reducers

Fever-reducing medicine such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) is one of the simplest and most effective ways to bring down a fever. These medicines work relatively quickly and can make you feel better for four to eight hours.

Acetaminophen can be used in children as young as 2 months old. However, if your baby is younger than 3 months and has a fever, contact your pediatrician before giving any medicine.

Ibuprofen can be used in children as young as 6 months old. Aspirin should not be given to kids but can be used in adults over age 18.

Drink More Fluids

Staying hydrated is really important all the time but even more so when you have a fever. A higher body temperature can lead to dehydration more quickly. Drinking cool liquids can decrease the chances that you get dehydrated and can even help cool off your body. 

Take a Bath

Taking a bath can help bring down your fever, but the really important part is that it can't be a cold bath. Although that might seem like it would help more than taking a warm bath, getting in cold or ice water will cause shivering which can actually increase your internal temperature.

Getting into a bath that is a comfortable temperature for you will help you relax and could bring down the fever as well. 

Cool Packs Under the Arms

A commonly used first aid technique to bring down high temperature, or hyperthermia, is to put cool packs under the arms and in the groin area. This is most often used in cases where a person is overheated because of outside factors (such as exercising or being outside for extended periods of time in high heat) but it might also help if a fever is high.

It's important to know that the fever may return after removing cool packs. You also shouldn't use ice packs—cool washcloths are sufficient. 

What You Shouldn't Do

Unfortunately, many people are fearful of fevers and may make dangerous mistakes attempting to get the temperature down. These are the things you should never do to try to get a fever down.

Don't Rub Down With Alcohol

This old fever-reducing remedy is a really bad idea. If someone recommends that you use rubbing alcohol on yourself or your child to bring down a temperature, please don't. Not only is it ineffective, it can cause alcohol poisoning. 

Don't Get In an Ice Bath

As discussed above, taking a bath is OK as long as it is warm. Taking an ice bath may bring your body temperature down (very) temporarily but it will quickly cause shivering, which actually makes your core temperature rise. 

Don't Double up on Medications

Taking too much fever-reducing medicine or taking two different kinds at once is not only ineffective, it's dangerous. It can damage your organs and won't bring your temperature down any faster. Tylenol (acetaminophen) overdose is a common reason kids are seen in the emergency room.

Healthcare providers recommend:

  • Don't alternate fever-reducing medications.
  • Write down when you last gave the medication.
  • Communicate with other caregivers so extra medicine is not given unknowingly.
  • Keep all medicines out of the reach of children.

Check the Ingredients

It's important to check the ingredients of all of the medicines you are using. Many multi-symptom cough and cold remedies contain acetaminophen. You should not give extra fever-reducing medicine if you are also giving one of these multi-symptom medications that contain acetaminophen or another fever reducer.

When to See a Doctor

Understandably, people are often concerned about fevers. And there are times when you should see a doctor for a fever, but it is very rarely because of the number on the thermometer.

The exception to this rule is fever in young infants:

  • Any child under 3 months old with a temperature over 100.4 degrees F needs to be evaluated by a healthcare provider (preferably a pediatrician).
  • Babies between 3 and 6 months with a temperature over 102.2 degrees F should be seen by their doctor.

This is not because the fever is going to hurt them, but infants can have very serious illnesses that cause fevers and they may need special tests performed to make sure they are treated properly. 

If you are worried about your temperature or your child's temperature, it is always OK to contact your healthcare provider to discuss symptoms and get recommendations for treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it typically take for a fever to resolve?

Fevers usually resolve within one to three days. Persistent fever for longer than this timeframe or that is accompanied by other symptoms, such as a rash, would warrant a call to your physician.

What temperature is considered feverish?

The CDC defines a fever as 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C) or greater. Other signs of a fever include the person feeling warm to the touch, reporting a feeling of excessive warmth, and alternating between feeling warm and having chills.

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9 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.
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Additional Reading
  • "Fever: First Aid" MayoClinic 15 Apr 15. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
  • "Fever". Health Topics. MedlinePlus 25 Mar 16. US National Library of Medicine. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 
  • "Reducing Fever in Children: Safe Use of Acetaminophen". Consumer Updates. 21 Jul 11. US Food and Drug Administration.