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Fact Checked

How to Break a Fever: Recommended Tips to Beat the Body Heat

Being sick is bad enough, but adding a high fever into the mix is enough to keep anyone in bed for a few days. Fevers are even harder to deal with when they affect young children, because kids tend to stay sick for longer and get sick more often. If you are desperate to learn how to break a fever, you may be surprised to discover that there are many home remedies  you can try that may help you avoid a trip to your doctor or pediatrician, depending on the cause of the fever.

What causes fevers?

A fever is a temporarily high body temperature that is a symptom of an underlying medical condition or illness, most commonly infection. Fevers are actually one of the ways that our body's immune system fights off illness and germs and helps you get healthy again. While most people feel uncomfortable when they have a fever, fevers do not always require medical treatment. A person’s age, their overall health, and the underlying cause of the fever determine whether or not medical advice and treatment is required. When a fever gets too high, hyperthermia, or excessively high body temperature, can cause serious illness and damage to the body. 

When should medical attention be sought for a fever?

The temperature at which medical attention should be sought for a fever depends on the age of the person being treated. Fevers are dangerous for very young children, so children between the ages of 0 and 3 months should receive medical attention for a fever at or above about 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Children between the ages of 3 and 6 months should receive medical attention for a fever above 102 degrees Fahrenheit, as should children between the ages of 6 and 24 months if the fever does not respond to fever reducing medication like Motrin, or if the fever lasts longer than a day. Between the ages of 2 and 17, medical attention should be sought for fevers above 102 degrees Fahrenheit if they last longer than three days or do not respond to fever reducing medication. For adults aged 18 and older, temperatures that are consistently 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, do not respond to medication, or last longer than three days require medical attention. 

Regardless of the temperature of the patient, medical attention should be sought in the event of severe symptoms like shortness of breath, severe headache, a stiff neck, or extreme lethargy or discomfort. Also keep in mind that the child's temperature shouldn't be the sole determiner of whether or not you seek the advice of a healthcare professional for the child's fever--symptoms of a worsening cold like sore throat or a runny nose may indicate a quick trip to the pediatrician.

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What can I do to break a fever?

You may have heard old wives tales about “feeding a cold and starving a fever,” but is there any truth to those old sayings? Unfortunately, not necessarily, but our increased knowledge about the causes of fevers and fever symptoms has helped lead to new information about how to break a fever.  

Stay hydrated: One of the most important things you can do for your body while you're sick is stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids that are preferably clear like water, chicken broth, or diluted juice to replace any fluids that you have lost from sweating. Some people may have difficulty keeping liquids down due to other symptoms of their illness, especially in the case of a common cold. If this is the case, suck on ice chips to at least get a little bit of fluid to your immune system.

Rest: No one likes resting, but when you have a fever, it’s absolutely necessary. When you have a fever, your body's immune system is fighting off an infection, so it’s important to conserve as much strength as possible in order to help break your fever.

Cool off: Try to lower your body temperature by removing extra clothing or blankets, unless you have the chills and find this too uncomfortable. Consider lowering the air conditioning or turning on your fan as well in order to help keep your core temperature down. Taking cool showers or a cold bath can also be helpful, but avoid taking ice baths or using alcohol rubs, as these can be dangerous. Even taking a cool washcloth to your forehead to act as a cold compress can help you feel better.

Include electrolytes: In addition to drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, you may also want to think about including electrolytes in the form of Gatorade, Pedialyte, or a similar mixture. Electrolytes help replace the salt that is lost through sweating and can be helpful in breaking a fever.

Add medication: There are many safe, effective over the counter medications that can be used to help break a fever if at-home remedies aren’t working on their own. Acetaminophen, the generic form of Tylenol, is a pain reliever and fever reducer that is given in doses according to the weight of the patient rather than their age. Acetaminophen is often the first choice of medication for breaking a fever because it is not associated with typical gastrointestinal symptoms that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen) tend to have as side effects. It should be noted that any over the counter medication taken to reduce fever should not be combined with other fever-reducing medications, and babies under the age of six months should not be given ibuprofen.

Track the duration: Make sure that you take note of the date and time that your thermometer first records a fever (considered to be 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher). Even if your fever never reaches extremely high temperatures, if it lasts for more than one to three days (depending on the age of the patient) or doesn’t respond to medication, you should seek medical treatment or the advice of a healthcare professional. While no one wants to take an unnecessary trip to the doctor’s office, fevers should be treated if they are not improving. 

Low grade fevers (less than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) generally do not require medication. Doctors actually recommend not taking medication for low grade fevers because it can prolong an illness since viruses and germs are better able to survive in cooler temperatures. Your body is using the fever to help fight off infection, so don’t lower your temperature artificially until you truly have a fever. 

References:

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-break-a-fever

https://www.everydayhealth.com/lung-respiratory/cold-flu/how-break-fever-doctor-recommended-tips/

https://www.health.com/condition/cold-flu-sinus/how-to-break-a-fever-high-temperature# 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/in-depth/fever/art-20050997 

https://www.webmd.com/first-aid/fevers-causes-symptoms-treatments

Published July 31st, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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