How Fever Is Treated

A fever is an increase in body temperature. It is a natural and beneficial response to an infection, helping to mobilize the immune system to fight whatever bacterium, virus, or other microbe has managed to invade the body. A fever also may develop as a symptom of inflammation.

Unless a fever becomes dangerously high or lasts for a prolonged period of time, it's sometimes best not to try to bring it down, given its role in helping to fight infection. But if it's causing discomfort, measures such as soaking in a lukewarm tub can help, as can over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

If you have a very high fever or one that lasts for more than two days (or your child has a fever that lingers for five days or more), see a doctor. Newborns and babies under 3 months should be seen by a pediatrician for any fever of any duration.

How to Treat a Fever
Age Temperature Treatment
0–3 months 100.4 F (rectal) Call the doctor or go to the emergency room.
3 months—3 years Under 102.2 F Comfort care
  102.2 and over Call the doctor for advice on treatment, which may include a fever-reducer.
4–18 years Under 102.2 F Comfort care
  102.2–104 F May give age-appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Call the doctor if the fever isn't lowered by medication or lasts longer than three days.
  104 F or over Call the doctor.
18 and over Under 102.2 F Comfort care
  102.2 to 104 F May take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin. Call the doctor if the fever isn't lowered by the medication or lasts longer than three days.
  105 F or over Call the doctor or go to the emergency room.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

A fever under 104 degrees F is not considered dangerous and so self-administered comfort care typically is adequate treatment. Such strategies may be effective on their own or in combination.

  • Drink up: Dehydration is a common complication of fever but can be prevented by drinking plenty of water, fruit juice, or an electrolyte-replacement beverage such as Pedialyte or a sports drinks. Infants who are breastfeeding should be nursed more often.
  • Dress wisely: Even if you feel cold or have chills, too many layers of clothing or extra blankets can prevent your body temperature from dropping to normal. Don't bundle up more than necessary to be comfortable.
  • Beat the heat: Stay out of the sun, hot outdoor temperatures, or overly heated rooms, if possible.
  • Rest: Refrain from strenuous physical activity.
  • Apply non-frozen cold packs to strategic areas: Place them under an arm, on your forehead, or the insides of your wrists. A cool wet washcloth will be effective as well.
  • Take a lukewarm bath or sponge bath: Limit soaking in the tub to 20 to 30 minutes; get out sooner if you start to shiver. Sponge small children with lukewarm water for up to 20 to 30 minutes as long as they're comfortable.

Never use ice or an ice bath to try to lower body temperature. The same goes for using rubbing alcohol on the skin. Neither strategy is effective and both can be dangerous.

Mother checking her sick sons temperature
Milan_Jovic / Getty Images

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

Although there are several medications that can help bring down a fever, they should be used with discretion and based on how elevated the temperature is and the age of the person it's affecting.

In adults, a temperature over 100 degrees F is considered a fever, but it's inadvisable to to take a fever reducer unless it is over 101 degrees F. A child over 6 months does not need medication for a temperature under 102 degrees F.

Before giving fever medication to a baby or a child under 2, call their pediatrician for guidance.

Over-the-counter fever relievers include:

Never give aspirin to children or teens under 18 (unless instructed by a doctor) due to the risk of Reye syndrome.

Carefully follow the instructions on the medication package or a doctor's guidance for the proper dose and safe intervals between doses. Note that for children, the dosage of a fever reliever is based on weight and age.

If you are taking a multi-symptom cold or flu formula, be aware that it may contain acetaminophen already. You risk an overdose if you take additional acetaminophen, which can cause liver damage.

Prescriptions

There are no prescription-strength medications for fever, but a doctor may prescribe a medication to treat the underlying cause of a fever. Once that is resolved, the temperature will return to normal.

For example, you may be prescribed an antiviral medication if you have influenza and are in a high-risk group. An antibiotic may be necessary to treat a bacterial infection such as bacterial pneumonia or strep throat.

Always take the full course of a prescribed antibiotic, even if your fever comes down and you start feeling better.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Aspirin was derived from willow before it was synthesized in the lab and is still sometimes regarded as a natural remedy for fever. Others herbs sometimes used to treat fever include meadowsweet, yarrow, black haw, cramp bark, birch, black cohosh, Indian pipe, and feverfew.

Use extreme caution when using any of these herbal remedies, especially for children. Some have naturally occuring derivatives of salicylic acid, which is the component of aspirin that can cause Reye syndrome. Talk to your doctor or your child's pediatrician first.

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Article Sources
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  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Fever without fear: Information for Parents. Updated April 22, 2016.

  3. MedlinePlus. Fever. Updated February 13, 2020.

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  5. American College of Cardiology. Sponge bath for a child's fever. Updated September 13, 2012.

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Fever. Updated December 31, 2019.

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Fever and pain medicine: How much to give your child. Updated April 6, 2016.

  8. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Reye syndrome. 2017.

  9. MedlinePlus. Acetaminophen. Updated February 18, 2020.

  10. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Feverfew. Updated November 30, 2016.

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