How to Break a Fever

5 Ideas on How and When to Treat a Fever at Home—Safely

A fever is a body temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher and is usually a sign of an infection. Knowing how to bring a fever down can help you safely and quickly reduce symptoms like headache, chills, and sweats.

If you or someone you are caring for is running a high temperature, you can safely break the fever by:

  • Taking over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Taking a lukewarm bath
  • Placing cool packs under the arms
  • Getting lots of rest

Other methods may sound like a good idea, but end up not reducing a temperature or even causing concerning side effects. This article details each of the recommendations for how to break a fever as fast as possible at home. It also covers what not to do when you have a fever and when to call a healthcare provider.

Mother taking daughter’'s temperature.
Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

Try Fever Reducers

An antipyretic is a type of drug used to reduce fever. Antipyretics work quickly to reduce fever and can make you feel better for four to eight hours.

Many can be purchased over the counter, including Tylenol (acetaminophen) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen).

Most over-the-counter antipyretics can be used in adults and children, but doses will vary. If a child under 3 months of age has a fever, contact a pediatrician or a doctor who specializes in the care of children before using any fever medication.

Tylenol can be used in children as small as 24 lbs in weight, while Advil can be given to children 6 months or older.

Aspirin Warning in Children

Unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise, aspirin should be avoided in children and teens because it can lead to a potentially deadly condition known as Reye's syndrome.


Drinking plenty of fluids is necessary to avoid dehydration during a fever. The higher the fever, the higher the risk of dehydration. Vomiting and decreased appetite are common during infections and illnesses too—and this can further increase the risk of dehydration.

Severe dehydration during a fever can lead to:

Drinking chilled fluids can also help bring down a fever. Water and sports drinks are good choices.

Take a Lukewarm Bath

A lukewarm, not hot, bath can help reduce a fever and relax you so you can sleep better.

Be sure to get out of the tub once the water starts to cool. A cold bath may sound like a good idea if you're burning up, but it can cause shivering that can increase—rather than decrease—core body temperature. And shivering consumes calories, which can make you exhausted if you aren't eating well due to illness.

Place Cool Packs Under the Arm

Placing a cooling cloth or cold pack on the forehead is a common way to bring down fever. But, if a fever is very high, a better approach may be to place a cold pack under the armpit or in the groin area where there are larger blood vessels.

Be sure to:

  • Wrap the cold pack in a cloth to avoid direct contact with the skin
  • Leave it in place for no longer than 10 to 15 minutes
  • Move the pack around constantly to avoid frostbite

Rest, Rest, Rest

If you or your child has a fever, it is important to rest. Any activity can raise your temperature.

A fever is a sign that your body is fighting off an infection. Not wasting energy on unnecessary activities allows the body to direct all of its efforts toward the task at hand.

What Not to Do When Treating a Fever

In addition to avoiding cold baths, there are other things you should never do when you have a high fever.

Alcohol Rubdowns

An alcohol rubdown involves rubbing the body in isopropyl alcohol (a.k.a. "rubbing alcohol"), which provides a cooling sensation as it evaporates.

This remedy actually does nothing to reduce fever and may cause shivers. Even worse, the practice can lead to alcohol poisoning as the alcohol is absorbed through the skin. 


Taking high doses of fever medications—or taking them more often than prescribed—does not make them more effective. But, it will increase the risk of side effects.

In fact, Tylenol overdose is especially dangerous for kids.

Overlook Product Labels

Before using any medication, be sure to read the product label. This is especially true with multi-symptom cold and flu remedies that often contain acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Taking a separate dose of either of these drugs too close to the multi-symptom treatment can result in overdosing.

Also, check if the product contains salicylates, a class of drugs used to reduce inflammation. Aspirin is the most common example. Cold and flu remedies containing this type of drug should be used with extreme caution in children and teens due to the risk of Reye's syndrome.

When Should I Worry About a Fever?

A fever can be concerning at any age, and a high fever can be particularly scary. You may be unsure if it's time to get emergency medical attention or if it's OK to wait and see how things progress. In the end, the rules vary by age group.

Regardless, though, seek medical treatment if a fever is accompanied by severe headache, difficulty breathing, or other concerning symptoms.

A low-grade fever, or a temperature of 99.6 to 100.3 degrees F, is not always a cause for concern. It's always best to contact your child's pediatrician if you aren't sure whether their fever needs treatment, especially if they are under the age of 2.

When Is a Fever Too High in Adults?

For adults, a fever of 103 degrees F that does not respond to medication should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Seek immediate care if you also have symptoms such as:

Fever in Children Over Age 2

Fevers in children are common. There is usually no cause for alarm as long as the child's behavior is normal.

A fever over 103 degrees F should prompt a call to their pediatrician.

You should seek immediate care if the:

  • Fever has lasted more than four or five days
  • The child is less responsive than usual or has poor eye contact with you
  • Fever is accompanied by severe headache, fatigue, vomiting, or other troubling symptoms
  • The child has a fever after having been left in a hot car

Fever in Infants and Babies (Up to Age 2)

For infants and babies, an unexplained fever is always a concern. Seek immediate care if an infant younger than 3 months of age develops any fever, if the child is not acting like themselves, or if you are otherwise concerned.

A few guidelines:

  • In infants under 3 months old, a temperature over 100.3 degrees F should be treated right away.
  • In children under 2 years old, fever greater than 102.2 degrees F warrants a call to the pediatrician.

If in doubt as to whether a fever is dangerously high or not, always err on the side of caution and either call a doctor or visit the nearest urgent care center or emergency room.


Fever can be treated with over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol or Advil, lukewarm baths, and plenty of fluids. You can consider using cold packs if a fever is especially high.

Never use cold baths, alcohol rubdowns, or more than the prescribed dose of any fever medication. Aspirin should not be used for children or teens due to the risk of Reye syndrome.

Knowing when it is time to call a healthcare provider can be confusing since the rules vary by a person's age. If in doubt, seek medical advice to be on the safe side.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What temperature constitutes a fever?

    A temperature of 100.4 degrees F or higher is considered a true fever. In adults, a temperature of 103 degrees F or higher is especially concerning. In children, the threshold for what is considered worrisome is lower.

  • Why do fevers occur?

    Fever is often due to an illness, like a cold or the flu. Germs have a harder time surviving in high temperatures, so the body initiates a fever to help defend itself. Fevers may also be the result of inflammatory diseases, cancer, or a reaction to certain drugs or vaccines.

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

    Fevers usually resolve within one to three days. Fevers lasting longer than one day in babies or three days in children age 2 and over should be evaluated by a doctor, especially if there are accompanying symptoms.

  • Why do fevers spike at night?

    Fevers can be higher at night because baseline body temperature is naturally a bit higher in the evening. This is also because the immune system is very active at night.

11 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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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.