When Fevers Get Dangerous
Having a fever doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to visit a doctor. In fact, a fever can be a good sign because it shows that your body is fighting an illness or infection. A low-grade fever is an essential part of the immune response, and you will often feel better in a few days.
Why Does Fever Occur?
A fever isn’t an illness – it is a symptom of another health condition. Usually, the body develops a fever in response to an infection that is occurring. The illness or disease is detected, then the immune system kicks into gear to fight the virus or bacteria. This response stimulates the body’s defenses, sending out the white blood cells that are needed for protection. Fever can be caused by a variety of conditions, including:
- Common cold
- Ear infections
- Sinus infection
- Internal infection
- Skin infection
- Urinary tract infections
- Blood clots
- Autoimmune diseases
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Hormone disorders
- Illegal drugs
Sometimes, fever is a temporary response to a specific cause. For example, young children often have a fever when teething or for a day or two after immunizations.
How Body Temperature Works
The average body temperature is 98.6 degrees F, but it is normal for the temperature to range between 97.7 degrees F and 99.5 degrees F throughout the day. For example, it is common for the body temperature to be higher in the evening compared to the morning. If the temperature goes above 99.5 degrees F, then it is considered a fever in both adults and children.
The body has built-in systems to maintain normal body temperature. Several organs affect temperature regulation, including the skin, brain, muscles, and blood vessels. If the body needs to cool down, then a few responses might occur:
- Sweat production increases to cool the skin
- Blood is moved closer to, or away from, the surface of the skin
- You feel the urge to move to a cooler environment
- Water in the body is retained or released through the sweat glands and urinary system
A fever is not the only factor that can increase body temperature. Heavy clothing, physical exertion, strong emotions, high heat and humidity, menstruation, and certain medications can increase body temperature. When you are taking a person’s temperature, check to ensure these other factors aren’t influencing the thermometer reading. For example, if a child has been running around, have them sit still for 20 minutes before using the thermometer to ensure you are getting an accurate reading.
Tips for Lowering a Fever
Just because a person has a mild fever, doesn’t mean that you need to be proactive in lowering the fever. Often, the best solution is to let the fever run its course by resting at home and staying hydrated. If you notice that the fever is increasing in severity, then these are a few things that can be done at home to see if the fever can be managed without medical treatment:
- Take a lukewarm bath (not cold water)
- Place a cool washcloth on the forehead
- Use over-the-counter acetaminophen, according to dosage directions on the package. Choose children’s brand medication for young members of your family.
- Adjust the thermostat in the house
- Remove blankets and heavy clothing
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially drinks with electrolytes to counteract the minerals lost through sweating
Even though ice baths and alcohol rubs are sometimes recommended as DIY fever treatments, these at-home methods should be avoided. Ice and alcohol rubs cause the body to shiver, which increases the internal temperature even more.
The main benefit of lowering a fever is to help the person be more comfortable, especially when they are trying to sleep at night. Additionally, body temperature regulation is essential to avoid potentially dangerous side-effects, such as seizures.
When is a Fever Dangerous?
A mild fever isn’t considered dangerous. If you or a family member has a low-grade fever with other common illness symptoms, then a few days of rest and healing at home might be just what the doctor ordered. But how do you know when it is time to seek medical attention? If the fever escalates, then it could potentially become dangerous.
These are a few signs that indicate you should seek medical attention immediately. Talk to the doctor if the fever is accompanied by:
- Difficulty breathing
Other signs that you need medical attention might include:
- You’ve recently received one or more vaccinations
- You visited another country recently
- You have a serious pre-existing condition
- A child seems confused or delirious
- A child won’t stop crying
- The person has a weakened immune system or other medical complications
Fevers in Children vs. Adults
One determining factor regarding whether medical care is needed is based on the severity of the fever and the age of the person. You should talk to a doctor when these criteria are met:
- 0 – 3 Months Old: The child has a rectal temperature at or above 100.4 degrees F
- 3 – 12 Months Old: An oral temperature reading is at or above 102.2 degrees F
- 2 Years Old – Teenage Years: If the child’s fever lasts more than 24 – 48 hours
- Adults: If the fever is above 103 degrees F and lasts more than 48 hours. Any time an adult fever reaches 105 or more, talk to a doctor right away.
Medical Treatment for Fever
Since a fever is a symptom of an underlying condition, it is important to obtain an accurate diagnosis to determine the best treatment plan. For example, antibiotics might be recommended for a bacterial infection, such as an ear infection or strep throat.
If you need medical care right away, then visiting an Urgent Care might be the most effective solution. At our clinic, you don’t have to schedule an appointment or wait for an opening. Walk-ins are welcome! Your entire family has access to fast treatment for a variety of injuries and illnesses.
Visit us anytime to access high-quality services from our board-certified medical team. We provide both urgent care services and emergency treatments. Call iCare ER and Urgent Care if you have questions about available services, or if you would like to schedule an appointment.: (214) 407-8668.