How Fever Is Treated

A fever is an increase in body temperature. It is a natural response of the body to viral or bacterial infections, and it is beneficial in fighting them, helping mobilize your body's defenses. Unless a fever reaches a higher temperature or is sustained, comfort care or over-the-counter medications are the right treatment. 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, any fever in a newborn up to 3 months old requires a call to the pediatrician.

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 to 3 years Under 102.2 F Comfort care
  102.2 and over Call your 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

Often, self-care enough when you have a fever. In itself, a fever is usually not dangerous until it reaches 104 degrees F, so comfort and preventing the fever from going higher are the goals. These strategies may be effective on their own, but are also beneficial when used alongside other treatments:

  • Drink plenty of clear non-alcoholic fluids: Water, fruit juice, or electrolyte-replacement drinks such as Pedialyte or sports drinks help 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: Dress in one layer of clothes only, provided the environmental temperature is comfortable. Be sure not to wrap up in blankets or warm clothes. Although you 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.
  • Rest: Get a lot of rest and refrain from strenuous physical activity when you have a fever.
  • Take a lukewarm bath or sponge bath: Use lukewarm water, not cold, and stop if there is any shivering. If you are an adult, you can bathe for 20 to 30 minutes. For a child, you can sponge them with lukewarm water for 20 to 30 minutes, so long as the child does not find it uncomfortable.
  • Use cool packs: You can place a cool pack (not frozen) or a cool wet cloth under your arm, on your forehead, or in your groin area.

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:

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

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. If the fever was due to an infection, it should be reduced as the infection resolves.

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.

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 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.

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Article Sources
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  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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