What are chills?
The term “chills” refers to a feeling of being cold without an apparent
cause. You get this feeling when your muscles repeatedly expand and contract
and the vessels in your skin constrict. Chills can occur with a fever and cause
shivering or shaking.
Your body chills can be constant. Each episode can last for as long as an
hour. Your chills can also occur periodically and last for several minutes.
Causes of chills
Some chills occur after exposure to a cold environment. They can also occur
as a response to a bacterial or viral infection that causes a fever. Chills are commonly
associated with the following conditions:
Treating chills at
If you or your child has a fever with chills, there are some things you can
do at home for comfort and relief. Keep reading to learn how to treat a fever
with chills and when you should call a doctor.
Home care for adults
Treatment is usually
based on whether your chills are accompanied by a fever and the severity of the
fever. If your fever is mild
and you have no other serious symptoms, you don’t have to see a doctor. Get
plenty of rest and drink plenty of liquids. A mild fever is 101.4°F (38.6°C) or less.
Cover yourself with a light sheet and avoid heavy blankets or clothing,
which can raise your body temperature. Sponging your body with lukewarm water
or taking a cool shower may help reduce a fever. Cold water, however, may
trigger an episode of chills.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can lower a fever and fight chills, such
As with any medication, carefully follow the instructions and take them as
directed. Aspirin and ibuprofen will lower your fever and reduce inflammation.
Acetaminophen will bring down a fever, but it won’t reduce inflammation.
Acetaminophen can be toxic to your liver if it isn’t taken as directed and
long-term use of ibuprofen can cause kidney and stomach damage.
Call your doctor if your fever and chills don’t improve after 48 hours of
home care or if you have any of the following symptoms:
Home care for children
Treating a child with chills and fever depends on the child’s age,
temperature, and any accompanying symptoms. In general, if your child’s fever
is between 100ºF (37.8°C) and
102ºF (38.9°C) and
they’re uncomfortable, you can give them acetaminophen in tablet or liquid
form. It’s important to follow the dosing instructions on the package.
Never bundle feverish children in heavy blankets or layers of clothing.
Dress them in lightweight clothing and give them water or other liquids to keep
Never give aspirin to children under the age of 18 because of the risk of Reye’s
syndrome. Reye’s syndrome is a rare but serious disorder that can develop
in children who are given aspirin while fighting a viral infection.
According to the Mayo
Clinic, you should call a doctor in the case of any of the following:
- a fever in a child younger than 3 months old
- a fever in a child age 3 to 6 months, and the child is
lethargic or irritable
- a fever in a child age 6 to 24 months that lasts longer
than one day
- a fever in a child age 24 months to 17 years that lasts
longer than three days and doesn’t respond to treatment
Your doctor will ask questions about your chills and fever, including:
- Do the chills make you shake, or do you only feel cold?
- What was your highest body temperature that was
accompanied by chills?
- Have you had chills just once or have you had repeated
episodes of chills?
- How long did each episode of chills last?
- Did the chills begin after exposure to an allergen, or did they begin suddenly?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
Your doctor will perform a physical examination
and possibly run diagnostic tests to see if a bacterial or viral infection is
causing your fever. Diagnostic tests may include a:
Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic if you’re diagnosed with a bacterial
infection, such as strep
throat or pneumonia.
What’s the outlook
Chills and fever are signs that something is wrong. If chills and fever
persist after treatment, see your doctor to determine the underlying cause.
If a fever goes untreated, you may experience severe dehydration and hallucinations. Children
ages 6 months to 5 years may also have fever-induced seizures, which are known
as febrile seizures.
These seizures don’t typically cause long-term health problems.