How Fever Is Treated

A fever accompanies a cold, the flu, or other illnesses. In terms of proper treatment for fevers, low temperatures need only supportive care such as drinking enough clear liquids and staying cool. A fever over 101 degrees F (in adults) or 102 degrees F (in children) may be treated with over-the-counter fever-reducers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen).

But there are times when you should not treat a fever without also consulting a physician. Among them, a rectal temperature over 100.4 degrees F in an infant age 0 to 3 months requires a call to the pediatrician. A high fever or one that lasts more than five days for children or two days for adults should be further assessed by a medical provider as well.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Often, self care enough to reduce a fever. These strategies may be effective on their own, but are also beneficial when used alongside other treatments:

  • Drink plenty of clear non-alcoholic fluids such as water, fruit juice, or electrolyte-replacement drinks such as Pedialyte or sports drinks to prevent dehydration, which is a complication of fever. A sign of dehydration in an infant is not wetting at least four diapers per day; for children or adults, not urinating every eight to 12 hours.
  • Dress wisely: The person with the fever should dress in one layer of clothes only, provided the environmental temperature is comfortable. Be sure not to wrap the person in blankets or warm clothes. Although they may feel cold or have chills, added layers prevent the body temperature from dropping to normal.
  • Stay out of the heat: Avoid being exposed to high temperatures or sun.
  • Take a break: Getting a lot of rest and refraining from strenuous physical activity is recommended when you have a fever.
  • Hope in the bath: Use lukewarm water (around 98 degrees F), not cold.
  • Place cool packs or cool rags under the arms, on the forehead, and in the groin area. Be sure the packs are not too cold.

Never put someone in an ice bath or use rubbing alcohol on the skin to reduce the body temperature. Both of these can be dangerous and do not work to bring down a fever.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

There are several medications that can be used to help bring down a fever, but whether or not that's necessary or advisable comes down to the severity of the fever and one's age.

In adults, a temperature over about 100 degrees F is considered a fever, but you do not need medications to reduce it unless it is over 101 degrees F. Likewise, in a child over 6 months of age, a temperature under 102 degrees F does not need medication.

If your child is younger than 2 months old and has a fever, you should call your pediatrician rather than giving medication. Always talk to your pediatrician before giving a medication to a child under age 2 years, as well.

Once a fever reaches the concerning level for a child or adult, you should consider your medication options:

Fever reducing medications work differently. If your fever comes back after you take one of these medications, you may need to take them again. How often you can repeat the dose depends on which medication you are taking. Check the packaging for age-appropriate dosage and administration directions.

For children, the dosage is often 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 Tylenol (acetaminophen), which can cause liver damage.

Prescriptions

Prescriptions are not needed for a fever itself, but your doctor may prescribe medication to address the underlying cause of one. For influenza, an antiviral medication may be prescribed if you are in a high-risk group.

Antibiotics are not needed for uncomplicated viral illnesses such as the common cold or influenza. However, if you have bacterial pneumonia, strep throat, or another bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe appropriate antibiotics. As a result of addressing the infection, the fever should also resolve.

In these cases, it is important to take your full prescription of antibiotics (even once you are feeling better) to avoid a return of the bacteria.

When to See the Doctor

Fever is a symptom of illness. While it may accompany an uncomplicated cold or flu, it can become a warning sign that you need further evaluation and treatment.

In general, adults should go to a doctor for a fever if their temperature goes above 103 F and will not come down with medication, or stays that high for more than 24 hours.

If a child over 6 months old has a temperature of over 101 degrees F that lasts for three days, you should call the pediatrician. A child between 3 and 6 months old that has a temperature over 101 F or an infant 3 months or younger with a temperature over 100.4 F should be taken to the doctor.

It is also important to consider how your child is acting when deciding the course of action for a fever. If the child is lethargic and eating or drinking poorly, you should treat the fever more aggressively than if the child is playful and active.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

One of the oldest fever-reducers, aspirin, originally came from willow before it was synthesized in the lab, and there are other natural remedies that have fever-reducing qualities. Feverfew is an herb traditionally used for fevers.

However, use caution when using any herbal remedy for a child or teen under age 18 as it may have derivatives of salicylic acid, just as aspirin does, and may carry a similar risk of Reye's syndrome in that age group. These herbs include willow, meadowsweet, yarrow, black haw, cramp bark, birch, black cohosh, and Indian pipe.

Discuss any herbal remedy with your doctor before giving it to your child or taking it yourself.

A Word From Verywell

Fever is a natural response of the body to viral or bacterial infections, and it helps mobilize your body's defenses. Unless it reaches a higher temperature or is sustained, comfort care or over-the-counter medications are the right treatment.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. MedlinePlus. Fever. Updated February 13, 2020.

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  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Fever and Pain Medicine: How Much To Give Your Child. Updated April 6, 2016.

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

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

  8. Cleveland Clinic. Fever: When to Call the Doctor. Updated December 31, 2019.

  9. Cleveland Clinic. When A Child’s Fever Becomes a Serious Problem. 2014.

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