- help your child feel better,
- recover as quickly as possible, and
- decrease their chances of getting chronic ailments such as asthma & eczema in the future.
Come and 'virtually' sit with me on my sofa while I talk you through everything you need to know to help support your family through childhood fevers. Find out what the medical evidence shows is the best way to:
This topic is of special interest to me. Having spend years researching and experiencing treating fevers, both personally and professionally, I've made it my mission to blast away the common misconceptions about childhood fevers, that could in fact be harming your child by:
- making their illness worse,
- prolonging the length of their recovery, and
- increasing the risk of them getting allergies and other chronic conditions in the future.
Let fever be your friend not your foe
Nursing ourselves and our families through a fever can be an anxious time for many of us. The first thing most people do is reach for some pills (antipyretics) such as paracetamol, asparin, tylenol or ibuprofin thinking that they may prevent febrile convulsions following a high temperature. This now is widely recognized however as a harmful misconception. Trying to bring down a temperature artificially is not necessarily a safe option as there areassociations between antipyretic use and risk of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, eczema and autism (for more on this see below).
Instead, most fevers and childhood diseases can and should be left alone and should be seen as a healing process in themselves. Suppressing fevers, on the other hand, can have long term consequences for our health, leading to more serious diseases. Some therapies such asIscador (available on the NHS), are used to induce fevers in order to aid healing, and other therapies use specially selected bacteria to induce fevers to fight cancer. In the past, before anti-biotics were introduced, steam boxes were used successfully to treat syphilis and other complaints. Also, animals are known to seek out warmer spots to give themselves fevers when they are ill. So we are not alone in that all animals use fevers to strengthen their immune systems.
Little more than bedrest and drinking water is all that is almost always needed. If your child has a fever and they are still breastfeeding, providing breast milk is the best way to literally nurse them through, as it not only provides all the liquids they need, but will also provide anti-bodies to help them fight off whatever it is that is causing the fevers. At the same time, it contains natural pain killers, relaxants and helps them to sleep.
“A small percentage of children can sometimes experience short-lived seizures when they have a fever, called a febrile seizure. These seizures are caused by a rapid increase in body temperature, not by a specific temperature. There’s no need to worry if your child experiences a febrile seizure, as they end quickly and do not leave after effects”.
So, you may ask, how high can fevers be before any intervention other than rest and drinking water is needed?
In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know about fevers:
Signs to watch for which may need medical advice:
- Fever in babies under 8 weeks over 38.5 C
- Fever more than 40.5 C (bacterial infection is probably present)
- Fever of more than 3 days (infection may be present)
- Fever more than 41.5C – extremely rare but can be harmful
- Fever due to sun stroke
- Fever in patients with cardiovascular or neurological disorders
- Absence of thirst – dehydration.
The NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) ‘Guidelines on Management of feverish illness in children younger than 5 years’ stated:
1. do not routinely use antipyretic agents with the sole aim of reducing fever in children who are otherwise well
2. do not routinely administer paracetamol and ibuprofen either in combination or alternately
3. antipyretic agents do not prevent febrile convulsions and should not be used specifically for this purpose.
Fever Charts from Stanford Children’s Hospital in California show that most fevers are good for children and help the body fight infection and that a fever must be very high before causing damage. They suggest using the following definitions to help put your child’s level of fever into perspective:
- 100-102°F (37.8 – 39°C) – low grade fever and beneficial
- 102-104°F (39 – 40°C) – moderate grade fever and beneficial
- Above 104°F (40°C) – high fever and cause discomfort, but harmless
- Above 105°F (40.6°C) – higher risk of bacterial infections
- Above 107°F (41.7°C) – the fever itself can be harmful
Official guidelines for Dutch family doctors in case of fever in children:
- A realistic notion about fever will make it easier for parents to deal with children having fever.
- In general, fever does not need treatment.
- Actively lowering the body temperature is not necessary. Applying cold compresses and cold sponging of the child is not meaningful or useful.
- In principle, no antipyretics are given. Antipyretics do not fight the disease and at best will make the child feel a bit better.
- Fever is qualified as a rectal temperature above 38 degrees C. (100.4 degree Fahrenheit)
- There are no injurious effects of fever below 41.7 degrees C. (107.06 degree Fahrenheit)
- Fever is a useful bodily reaction. If the heat is allowed to drain away, fever will not rise above 41.7 degrees C. (107.06 degree Fahrenheit)
- The increase of the body temperature seems to be important in fighting the disease.
- If the fever is not treated, this does not mean the temperature will keep rising.
- The main reason for taking the temperature is knowing whether or not there is a fever.
- There is no use in measuring each change. It is sufficient to take the temperature once a day.
- Parents should not wake their child to take the temperature.
- Temperature should be measured per rectum. Other ways are not reliable.
- Observing the child and registering changes in the childs behaviour are more important than frequently measuring the temperature.
- The extent to which the child is sick is far more important than the temperature of the fever.
Quotes from Medical Literature:
“Not all fevers need to be treated but many physicians do so to relieve parental concern.”
(Eur J Ped 1994 Jun; 153 (6): 394-402)
“Antipyretics prolong illness in patients with Influenza A…. The duration of illness was significantly prolonged from 5 days (without) to 8 1/2 days (with)” (Pharmacotherapy 2000, 20: 417-422).
Meningococcal Disease: “use of analgesics were associated with disease…..we cannot exclude the possibility that acetaminophen use itself is a risk factor for meningococcal disease”
(Ped Infec Dis, Oct 2000, Vol 19, No 10, 983-990).
“Fever is an important indicator of disease and should not be routinely suppressed by antipyretics. Fever may actually benefit the host defense mechanism. Fever is short-lived and causes only minor discomfort. Routine antipyretic therapy should be avoided but may be necessary in individual patients with cardiovascular or neurologic disorders” (Infect Dis Clin North Am 1996 Mar; 10 (1) 211-216).
“The data suggests that frequent administration of antipyretics to children with infectious disease may lead to a worsening of their illness” (Acta Paed. Jpn 1994 Aug; 36 (4) 375-378).
Dangers of antipyretics:
Association between paracetamol use in infancy and childhood, and risk of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema in children aged 6—7 years
“Use of paracetamol in the first year of life and in later childhood, is associated with risk of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema at age 6 to 7 years. We suggest that exposure to paracetamol might be a risk factor for the development of asthma in childhood” (The Lancet, 20 September 2008).Calpol
A word of warning from The Ecologist (29 October 2009) about this overused and misunderstood medicine that has been linked with asthma, allergies and eczema:
“Late in 2008 a paper published in the respected medical journal The Lancet challenged many parent’s perceptions of the harmlessness of Calpol. Researchers who analysed data on more than 200,000 children found strong links between their exposure to paracetamol as infants and the development of asthma, eczema and other allergies at age 6-7.
In fact using the drug in the first year of life increased the risk of hay fever and eczema at the age of 6 and 7 by 48 per cent and 35 per cent respectively.
The more paracetamol a child had in the early years of life, the higher the risk. Thus children under 12 months who were given a paracetamol-based medicine at least once a month more than tripled the chances of suffering wheezing attacks by the age of 6 or 7” … more
Calpol of course doesn’t just contain paracetamol. It is a cocktail of sweeteners, flavourings, preservatives and colourants to make the product appealing and palatable to infants. These additives include strawberry ‘flavouring’ and carmoisine (E122- suspected carcinogen, banned in Austria, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the US) to produce its pink colour.
It also contains Maltitol (a mild laxative), glycerol (E422 – large quantities can cause headaches, thirst and nausea), sorbitol (E420 – large quantities can cause stomach upset), the paraben preservatives that are all suspected hormone disrupters and allergens: methyl parahydroxybenzoate (E218), propyl parahydroxybenzoate (E216), ethyl parahydroxybenzoate (E214 – banned in France and Australia); and a thickener xanthan gum (E415 – no known adverse effects).
Massive recall by McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, of its infants’ and children’s line of Tylenol products. An FDA inspection report found these drugs to be contaminated with dangerous bacteria (they did not disclose the actual type) as well as “foreign materials” that were visible as “dark or black specks”. But a recent story published by USA Today has revealed that McNeil actually knew about the bacterial contamination and kept shipping the products anyway.
“The present study was performed to determine whether acetaminophen (paracetamol) use after the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination could be associated with autistic disorder… This preliminary study found that acetaminophen use after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination was associated with autistic disorder”.
This is a very profound article by a renowned homeopathic physician with many decades of experience. He warns that acute inflammatory diseases, including fevers, especially in childhood, must be treated very carefully and thoughtfully, as their treatment will have an impact on future health and wellbeing.
He states that: “suppression of diseases, through excess of chemical drugs or other means, many times overwhelms the body’s natural defenses and forces the immune system to compromise and start a deeper line of defense, which then constitute the beginning of a new chronic condition. Thus, the original inflammation of an acute condition [including fevers] may continue as a sub-acute inflammatory process on a deeper level. Acute inflammatory conditions must therefore be treated very carefully from their beginnings in childhood in order not to force the immune system to compromise.”
“Health and medical journalists are not presently providing the public with what might be the most important health advice that they should be given during the flu season: people with the flu should avoid taking fever-reducing drugs, such as aspirin or acetaminophen (aka TylenolTM), except in rare situations.It is widely recognized that fever is a vital defense of the body in its efforts to fight infection. A fever enables the body to increase its production of interferon, an important antiviral substance that is critical for fighting infection. Fever also increases white blood cell mobility and activity, which are instrumental factors in fighting infection. Jane Brody, a long-time respected health columnist for the New York Times, reported back in 1982 on the healing benefits of fever. She noted, a number of physicians, including pediatricians, are now suggesting that moderate fevers be allowed to run their course, for they may shorten the illness, potentiate the action of antibiotics and reduce the chances of spreading the infection to others. 
Recognition that fever is beneficial has been known for more than 2,000 years, and historically, the healing benefits of fever are so substantial that many patients have actually been treated with ”fever therapy” to aid their recovery from such ailments as cancer, syphilis, tuberculosis and even mania.  However, in the 1800’s, aspirin compounds that rapidly reduced fevers became commercially available, and the medical view of fever changed dramatically. Since the mid-1800s, drug companies have successfully convinced conventional physicians and the general public to become vigilant in bringing down fevers, even sometimes using such drastic measures as cold baths and alcohol rubs along with aspirin… more
Fever: friend or foe? by Robert Matthews and Clare Wilson, New Scientist, 5 August 2010
“The standard advice for people with flu, for example, is to dose up with paracetamol. Parents of young children, who are especially prone to fevers, are well aware of the perils of inaction: febrile convulsions. But now there’s growing concern that these time-honoured approaches are at best misguided and at worst potentially life-threatening. New findings are starting to support a much older view of fever: that it is a key part of the body’s disease-fighting strategy. The evidence is coming in from many sources, including insights into how the immune system battles infection, research into how bacteria respond to temperature and studies of critically ill patients. At the same time, the idea that antipyretics can prevent fits in children is looking increasingly shaky. It’s not often that decades of clinical practice is overturned, but it looks like the game may be finally up for one of medicine’s most basic precepts.”
“The Benefits of Fever
- More antibodies — cells trained to specifically attack the exact type of invader that your body is presently suffering from — produced more specific to that bug than any pharmaceutical.
- More white blood cells (the good guys) produced, circulating, mobilizing and armed to fight off the invading bugs specific to the general category of invader.
- More interferon produced (another immune system good guy, which blocks spread of viruses to healthy cells).
- Walling off of iron, which bacteria feed on.
- Increased temperature, which directly kills microbes. (Most bacteria and viruses actually grow better at temperatures lower than the human body, which is why they like our cool noses in the winter.) Parents, it’s not your kids begging for fever-reducing drugs; it’s the germs”…
Fever – Perhaps the Most Overtreated Symptom of All By Dr. Mercola October 26 2010
“A great number of people have completely misunderstood fever, and believe that fever can be dangerous in and of itself – especially when the fever occurs in a child. It’s important to realize that fever is your body’s backup defense mechanism when your primary ones – mainly your immune system — fail. Your first line of defense is your macrophages, which gobble up any invading microbes. As long as your immune system is strong, you may not even realize you’ve been exposed to a troublesome bug. If you are still under the impression that having a fever or 100 or 101 degrees Fahrenheit is an indication of a dangerous situation, relax! It’s not! Many infectious agents do not survive in elevated temperatures so your body increases the temperature in an effort to eradicate the infection. It is a healthy response”…
Arnica UK Parents Support Network, promoting natural immunity:
For a comprehensive list of articles on fever and the dangers of antipyretics as well as much more on vaccination: http://www.wellwithin1.com/fever.htm