Causes and Treatment of Fevers

So many people worry about fevers unnecessarily. The myths and concerns over the body temperature going up and causing permanent damage are largely unfounded but people continue to worry because most don't know why it happens or what it means. Lucky for you, we're going to clear up the confusion.

Reasons Why Body Temperature Rises

A fever is a term we use to describe an elevated body temperature. A normal temperature is considered 98.6 degrees F or 37 degrees C. However, "normal" can vary from person to person. Most healthcare providers consider anything between 97 and 100.3 degrees F to be normal. If the temperature is higher than 100.3 F, it's a fever.

It's important to understand that fevers are not illnesses. A fever is a symptom. It is the body's response to another issue.

Things that can cause fevers include:

  • Infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, etc)
  • Overdressing (most common in infants and young children)
  • Medications
  • Immunizations
  • Cancers
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Heat exhaustion (hyperthermia)

Researchers believe the body temperature rises in response to infections in an effort to kill the invading germs. Most bacteria and viruses live well and multiply at the normal body temperature of 98.6 but cannot survive higher temperatures. The hypothalamus (which is located in the brain) acts like a thermostat and turns up the body temperature in response to an invasion by those germs. It's one of our natural defenses against infection.

Treatment for Fevers

If your fever is caused by an illness (most are), then the most important step is trying to figure out which illness you have and how to treat it. Once you have done that or you feel confident that you aren't dealing with anything serious, there are a few things you can do to bring your temperature down.

Take over-the-counter fever reducers: If you feel miserable when you have a fever, taking over the counter fever reducers may help. They don't always bring the temperature down to normal but that is okay as long as they help you feel better.

Children under the age of 18 should never take aspirin unless specifically instructed to do so by their pediatrician. Aspirin use in kids has been linked to a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.

Try reducing the fever without medications: These tips are generally not as effective as taking fever-reducing medications but may be helpful if the fever isn't making you (or your child) feel very bad.

Removing extra layers, taking a lukewarm bath and putting cool cloths or packs under the arms and on the forehead can all help bring the temperature down temporarily.

Aren't High Fevers Dangerous?

No. Believe it or not, a fever is not going to hurt you or your child. Except in rare circumstances when a person already has some type of neurological damage or condition, the body temperature will not go so high that it will cause any type of harm. Children can run temperatures of 104 or even 105 and be okay.

Some children experience febrile seizures when they get fevers – particularly above 101 degrees F. Although these seizures are generally not dangerous and do not cause permanent damage, they are frightening for parents and should be evaluated by a doctor right away.

When It Comes to Kids, Keep These Things in Mind

If your child is under 3 months old and has a temperature higher than 100.3F, seek medical attention. Infants that young do not often develop fevers unless they have a serious illness.

If your child is between 3 months and 3 years, contact your health care provider if she has a temperature higher than 102.2F. While the fever is not going to hurt her, it could be an indication that there is an infection or illness that needs to be treated.

If your child is older than 3 years old and has a fever, the number on the thermometer is not important but her behavior and other symptoms are. If she doesn't want to play, smile or drink much, even after taking a fever reducer, then you need to contact her health care provider.

Fevers are scary to many people. Hopefully, this information clears up some of the misconceptions you or others have about them. If you have concerns about your health, this information should be used as a guide only and not as medical advice. Contact your health care provider for specific advice about your health.

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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.
  1. Geneva II, Cuzzo B, Fazili T, Javaid W. Normal body temperature: a systematic reviewOpen Forum Infect Dis. 2019;6(4):ofz032. doi:10.1093/ofid/ofz032

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Definitions of symptoms for reportable illnesses. Updated June 30, 2017.

  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Fever. Updated August 5, 2018.

  4. Sullivan JE, Farrar HC. Fever and antipyretic use in children. Pediatrics. 2011; 127(3):580-587. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-3852

  5. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Aspirin. Updated February 15, 2018.

  6. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Febrile seizures fact sheet. Updated August 13, 2019.

Additional Reading

  • "Fever and Taking Your Child's Temperature" Your Kid's Body 2014. KidsHealth from Nemours. The Nemours Foundation. 
  • "Fevers" Health Topics 26 Feb 14. MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Department of Health and Human Services.