Fevers are a natural part of fighting germs and illness, but they can often be very unsettling to parents. You’ve probably gathered fears over the years from hearing things like, “untreated and high fevers can cause damage to brain cells or hearing loss” or, “high fevers can cause seizures” and so on. As a parent we want what is safe and best for our kids and when they are sick, we naturally just want to make things better. But before you rush to grab the Tylenol or Motrin next time your child gets a fever, let’s discuss what a fever means and how it is actually helpful.
A fever is a sign that your body is mounting an attack on the virus or pathogen causing your illness. When your body is exposed to germs, your white blood cells immediately go to work to fight those germs (in healthy individuals). This often goes unnoticed and a lot of the germs we are exposed to don’t turn into illness. But for the ones that do, letting a fever run its course can actually allow your body to fight the infection faster, because the white blood cells are allowed to do their job.
There is a great article from Mommypotamus on fevers in which she sites many resources from professionals on this topic & “fever fear”. I recommend reading it but wanted to quote below something she shared in her article. New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics on fevers, as of 2016.
American Academy Of Pediatrics Issues New Advice On Fevers
From the TODAY Show:
“Parents have been told for generations that a high fever can be dangerous to kids. If you don’t get your child’s fever down, you’ll run the risk of frying brain cells, doctors have warned.
But now the American Academy of Pediatricians has turned that conventional wisdom on its head. A new report published this month in Pediatrics states that not only is there no need to bring down a fever in an otherwise healthy child, but there is a downside to treating a fever – it can prolong the illness that originally sparked the high temperatures.”
So we know that a fever is a good and beneficial thing in healthy individuals. But let’s talk about when you would want to treat a fever with anti-pyretics (tylenol or Motrin) or have your child seen by a professional.
▫️Any child less than 2 months of age that develops a temperature greater than 100.4 should be seen immediately. Infants have a fragile immune system that is still developing, and illness can be harder on their tiny bodies. You will want to find the source of the fever and rule out anything serious like meningitis.
▫️If your child has a prolonged fever of 5 or more days, even if they are acting fine, they should be seen by a doctor. You will want to check for bacterial infections like a UTI or ear infection.
▫️If you are unable to keep your child hydrated or they are acting lethargic they should be seen by a doctor. Signs of dehydration are very dry mouth & lips, low energy, lethargy, and less than 3 wet diapers or urinations in a 24 hour period.
▫️If your child is absolutely miserable, you might consider anti-pyretics to help them rest & sleep. Sleep is crucial to healing- and Parents of sick babies need sleep too.
Common questions I have received as a medical professional:
How High is too high?
The answer is ambiguous. The actual degree of the temperature doesn’t really matter, what matters is the appearance and behavior of your child.
I Personally have let a fever of 105 run in my child because she was tolerating it ok. I have also given medicine with a fever of a lower degree because she was miserable. Try not to obsess over the number on the thermometer.
What about seizures??
This is one of the top concerns of parents. Seizures can be extremely scary to witness and febrile seizures can and do happen. What you need to know is that a febrile seizure comes as a result of a rapid change in temperature, not the degree of the temperature. I have seen kids with a temperature of 102 have a seizure, and kids with a fever of 105 that are just fine. The seizure can happen as the temperature rises rapidly and also as it falls rapidly, thus sometimes are a result of treating fevers with medicine. These seizures are typically short lasting and harmless.
What is considered normal during a fever?
Our bodies were designed so perfectly and are really smart. Natural physiological process will happen when your child has a fever to help control what’s going on inside. Your child’s respiratory rate will increase as their body tries to “blow off the heat”. [Breathing will increase in rate but should NOT be labored. If breathing is labored you should seek immediate medical care]. Their heart rate will increase, their extremities may alternate from being cool to being hot, and they can be irritable and restless. They probably won’t feel like doing much but this is different than being lethargic. If you feel your child is lethargic you should seek medical care.
Now- for the good stuff!
How to treat a fever naturally and where to start when that fever kicks in.
Step 1- Stop all food & eating. Ever heard that old wisdom to “starve a fever?” It is truth! Give your child liquids only until the fever breaks. You want their body to focus on fighting the pathogen, not on digesting food. The liver plays a large part in the action of the immune system. It also breaks down our food. So if you distract the liver with needing to break down food, especially fats and protein, it distracts from fighting the pathogen [information on the livers active role in the immune system can be found in “Liver Rescue”- by Anthony William].
Focus on giving hydrating fluids like coconut water with no sugars added, lemon + honey water, herbal teas, simple fruit smoothies made with coconut water, warm vegetable broth, and cucumber juice which I will talk about more next.
In between fever spikes you can give simple foods, like fruit and potatoes. It would be best to continue avoiding high fat or high protein foods until the sickness completely resolves, so the liver can continue fighting the illness. My daughter loves to eat big bowls of frozen wild blueberries and sweet potatoes during an illness.
2- Cucumber juice- the fever miracle. “Cucumber juice takes down a fever like throwing water on a fire”. I learned this trick from Medical Medium and have been absolutely amazed with how well it works, every time. To make cucumber juice you simply run a whole, unpeeled cucumber (preferably organic if possible since you will leave the peel on) through a juicer and have them drink immediately or freeze immediately. If you don’t have a juicer you can do this in a high powered blender as well, just add a little water, blend, then strain to remove little chunks. My daughter prefers her cucumber juice frozen, so I freeze the juice into tiny ice cubes right away then have her snack on them whenever she feels warm. She does drink it fresh though if I don’t have any ice cubes ready and she gets a fever. You could also freeze them into popsicles, whatever you think your kids would enjoy most. For babies you can put it in a bottle or syringe it into their mouths. I’ve heard a lot of moms say their kids wouldn’t touch cucumber juice. In my experience I just tell my daughter it’s going to help her feel better, then she recognizes that it does, and is willing to keep taking it. She also has grown accustom to the taste because we juice frequently in our home.
Cucumber juice needs to be given on an empty stomach for best results.
You can read more about cucumber juice and how it got my daughter through chemotherapy induced fevers in my post HERE.
3- Control the temperature the old fashioned way! Cool washcloths to the head and neck, loose light clothing, plenty of rest and a lot of baths. A mildly warm bath is best- never put a fevering child into a cold bath as it can shock their body. Remember that you don’t want to bring the fever down too rapidly because this increases the risk of febrile seizures. [*If you are interested in detox baths you can read my post HERE.]
4– As far as supplements and herbs, I focus on the things I have shared in my “winter medicine kit” post HERE. I increase the elderberry to three times a day when an illness comes on, increase vitamin C and zinc, and give herbs according to what particular illness my babe is fighting. I love herbal teas and some good ones to give for any kind of illness are rose hips, nettle leaf, lemon balm, and peppermint. You can make these teas into herbal- honey popsicles which your little ones will love!
[For suggestions on treating an earache/ear infection naturally, read my post HERE.]
5- Use Motrin or Tylenol as it feels appropriate. I try to make it at least 24 hours without using anti-pyretics, and try to avoid them all together, but there are always exceptions and you shouldn’t feel guilty if you feel it’s best to give your child medicine. Sometimes you just want to see them more comfortable, and sometimes an exhausted parent just needs sleep. Use your best judgement! If I do give medicine I choose Motrin over Tylenol. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is hard on the liver and lowers glutathione stores- a powerful anti-toxin in our body. However if your child is less than 6 months old Tylenol is the only option, and that’s ok too.
I do all of these things above and run essential oils like eucalyptus, lavender, frankincense, black pepper & peppermint in my diffuser constantly. You always want a humidifier running in the winter as well, to combat the dry air and decrease the spread of germs.
*Please note that these are simply the things I have learned and utilized in my years of being a nurse, nurse practitioner, and mostly- a mother. This is not medical advice and you should always keep a good relationship with your medical provider and exercise your best judgment.
I hope you found this helpful! And I hope that the next time a fever pops up you don’t fear it, because you have some tools in your toolbox to get through it. All of these recommendations apply to adults as well as children.