Q: I recently heard that having a fever could be helpful in fighting infection. Aren’t fevers dangerous?
A: There are many common misconceptions about fever. Unnecessary fears about harmful side effects from fever often cause undue worry for many parents. Although a fever is not something to ignore, it is rarely a cause for panic. Understanding what a fever is and how it works will help ease unwarranted fears.
Fever is a symptom, not an illness. It is the body’s normal response to infections. In fact, fever helps fight infections by turning on the body’s immune system. A fever works by destroying viruses that cause colds and other respiratory infections. Since it is a natural healing mechanism meant to protect the body, parents should not automatically attempt to lower a child’s temperature.
Dr. Nancy Snyderman, M.D., ABC television health correspondent and published author, along with most medical experts agree that your child’s behavior, not the thermometer reading is the best measure of when to treat a fever. She explains that at times, a child whose temperature is 103°F may not feel or act very sick. At other times, a child with a temperature of only 100.9°F may look and feel miserable. When this occurs, parents need to decide whether to give medication, such as children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen, or whether to let the child’s natural defenses fight the infection.
Most fevers with viral illnesses range from 101 to 104°F and last two to four days. The brain’s “thermostat” works to keep untreated fevers below 108°.
The following definitions may help to put a child’s fever into perspective:
· 100°F to 102°F is a low-grade fever and is beneficial in fighting infections.
· 102°F to 104°F is a moderate-grade fever and is beneficial in fighting infections.
· Over 104°F is a high fever: Causes discomfort but is harmless.
· Over 105°F is a high fever: Higher chances that the body is fighting a bacterial infection.
· Over 108°F° is severe and the fever itself is harmful. This condition is very unusual.