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When children get sick, we always want to do what we can to help them feel better. However, when they have a fever, our efforts could be counter-productive. The ability that children have to mount a fever is a clear demonstration of the inherent potential that the human body has to heal itself.
The immune system’s reaction to infection is a complex and effective process that includes the following events:
- More white blood cells are produced to destroy bacteria and viruses. They also help to remove damaged tissues and toxic substances from the body.
- Not only do the quantity of white blood cells increase, but their activity increases as well, and they move quickly to the site of infection.
- The production of antibodies increases up to 20 times the average.
- Some of these processes make us feel sleepy and worn down. This helps us conserve energy that is then used for the process of healing and regeneration.
- A high body temperature directly kills bacteria and viruses.
- Interestingly, much of the iron in our blood is delivered to and stored in the liver when our body is fighting off infection. Bacteria require iron to survive and reproduce.
Developing a fever is an important part of the healing process. Hippocrates was spot on when he said, “Give me a fever and I can cure any illness”.
Eliminating a fever interferes with the healing process and often prolongs the infection.
What else should we know about fevers?
- A fever is a symptom, not an illness.
- A child with a fever will often feel tired and look flushed.
- The heart will often beat faster and stronger.
- The cause of the illness and how sick the child acts, are more important than how high the fever rises.
- Fevers due to an infection are usually not higher than 106 degrees Fahrenheit and poses no danger to a child.
- Fevers greater than 107 or 108 degrees Fahrenheit can cause brain damage and are very uncommon with simple infections. Very high fevers are generally occur due to heat stroke or poisoning.
- Febrile seizures normally occur in 1 out of 20 children with fever. These seizures are generally a few minutes in duration and have no long-term effects.
- Febrile seizures are usually due to the rapid increase in temperature, not the actual degree of the temperature.
- Febrile seizures can be caused by very high fevers, but also by low grade fevers.
Other important thoughts about fevers:
- The complications of a fever are generally due to dehydration, and the causative agent of the fever, not the temperature itself.
- We should NOT judge the severity of an illness based on how hot a fever runs, but should judge it by how the child looks and behaves. A child with a 101 degree fever that is quieter than normal and with an empty stare is much more ill than a child with a 104 degree fever that is playing and is alert to his/her surroundings.
If you are concerned about your child’s temperature be sure to call your pediatrician. There are conditions that cause fevers that should not be overlooked and may require medical treatment. Dr. Schulz is currently seeing pediatric patients at Springwater Wellness.