How to break a fever
If you or someone you're caring for has a fever, follow these steps to break the fever:
- Take your temperature and assess your symptoms. If your temperature runs 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, you have a fever.
- Stay in bed and rest.
- Keep hydrated. Drinking water, iced tea, or very diluted juice to replenish fluids lost through sweating. But if keeping liquids down is difficult, suck on ice chips.
- Take over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen to reduce fever. Note the proper dosage, and don’t them use alongside other fever-reducing medications. You shouldn’t give aspirin to your baby or child without consulting your doctor. Infants under 6 months of age shouldn’t be given ibuprofen.
- Stay cool. Remove extra layers of clothing and blankets, unless you have the chills.
- Take tepid baths or using cold compresses to make you more comfortable. Cold baths, ice cube baths, or alcohol baths or rubs can be dangerous and should be avoided.
- But no matter what the number on the thermometer reads, if you have any concerns consult your doctor.
Running a fever is the body’s response to fighting infections caused by viruses or bacteria. Fevers can also result from sunburn or from getting immunizations. Anyone can get a fever, regardless of age. People who have compromised immune systems may tend to have fevers more often than others do.
To learn about specific treatment guidelines by age and understand your symptoms continue reading.
How to assess
A healthy adult with a slight fever may feel like they’ve been hit with a Mack truck, but a baby with a high fever may sometimes feel pretty comfortable. The reverse of both scenarios can also occur.
Fevers aren’t one-size-fits-all, and neither are their symptoms. Your overall comfort level and symptoms can help you decide how to treat a fever.
If you have a fever, you may experience the following symptoms:
If a rash accompanies your fever, you should consult with your doctor. It’s important that your doctor determines the root cause of the rash. Other symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting, may resolve more quickly with medical attention.
Most people have a baseline temperature of 98.6°F (37°C), although some people have a baseline that’s slightly higher or lower. Daily temperature fluctuations are also normal.
Different types of thermometers can yield different results. You’re considered to be running a fever if an oral, rectal, ear, or temporal artery (forehead) thermometer registers 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.
If you use an axillary (armpit) thermometer, the temperature reading will be around 1°F or 1°C lower, so anything over 99.4°F (37°C) would constitute a fever.
Many pediatricians recommend using rectal thermometers for infants and babies. Discuss with your doctor which type of thermometer to use. You should also be sure to let them know what kind of thermometer you used to record your child’s temperature.
When to see a doctor
How and when you should treat a fever is generally determined by your age. If left untreated, fever can lead to serious complications in young children, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems.
Infants and toddlers
Infants up to 3 months old should be seen by a doctor if they have a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or above. They should still see a doctor even if there are no other symptoms present.
Babies 3 to 6 months old may not require treatment for fevers up to 102°F (38.9°C). If your baby has other symptoms, or their fever goes above 102°F (38.9°C), you should call your doctor.
Children ages 6 months to 2 years old who have temperatures at or above 102°F (38.9°C) may take OTC medications under a doctor’s supervision. Let your doctor know if the fever persists for more than a day, worsens, or doesn’t come down with medication.
Young children and adolescents
Children ages 2 to 17 years old generally don’t need medication to reduce fevers under 102°F (38.9°C). They may benefit from medication if they’re experiencing symptoms such as irritability or muscle aches.
If their fever goes above 102°F (38.9°C), medication may be used to bring it down. If your child is very uncomfortable, or if their fever persists for more than three days, you should consult with your doctor.
Adults 18 and over typically don’t need medication for a fever under 102°F (38.9°C). Fevers above that number may be reduced by medication. If your fever goes above 103°F (39.4°C) or doesn’t respond to treatment, a call to the doctor is warranted. Adults with a fever and other symptoms, such as a stiff neck, severe pain anywhere in the body, or shortness of breath, should seek immediate medical attention.
Fever in adults over age 65 doesn’t automatically require special treatment, though you should be on the lookout for symptoms such as shortness of breath or confusion. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical support.
You should also consult with your doctor if your fever goes above 102°F (38.9°C) or doesn’t come down within two days. You can try OTC medications, but you should be sure they won’t conflict with any other medications you’re taking.
Fever is often a sign of infection. Sometimes, these infections are fast moving or hard to treat. So if you have a compromised immune system, getting immediate medical support for fever important.
What you can
Running a fever is usually nothing to worry about. It’s important to understand the guidelines for treating fever, especially for young children, older adults, and people with a compromised immune system.
If you or someone you’re caring for has a fever, you should:
- Check the age guidelines. Is it safe to treat this fever at home, or should you see a doctor?
- Stay hydrated. Everyone can benefit from added electrolytes or water.
- Keep track of the duration. Regardless of your age, if your fever hasn’t let up in about two days, you should seek medical attention.
If you’re ever unsure of how to handle a fever, call your doctor. They can work with you to determine the best course of action.
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