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Fact Checked

What is a Low Grade Fever?

Let's face it, a lot of people out there are worried about all the hype over COVID-19. While coronavirus isn't anything to be taken lightly, per the CDC (centers for disease control and prevention), it doesn't mean that every symptom should make you go rushing to seek medical care because you think you've caught an infectious disease. Everyone has had a fever at some point in their lives, but not all fevers are created equal. You may have heard of “low grade fevers” but be unsure of exactly what the cutoff is between a low grade fever and a regular fever. Low grade fevers are treated differently than regular fevers, but they have similar origins and many of the same at-home remedies. If you find yourself asking “what is a low grade fever?” you’ll be surprised to know that the cutoff may be higher than you are expecting. 

What is a low grade fever?

The normal temperature of the human body is, on average, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. While some people may have naturally lower or higher body temperatures, in general, using 98.6 degrees as your benchmark is a safe choice when evaluating whether or not you have a fever. A low grade fever is defined as a temperature that is slightly elevated, is between 98.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and lasts for more than 24 hours. No blood test needed, the time constraint accounts for natural fluctuations in our body temperature throughout the day, such as during or immediately following exercise. People are said to have chronic fevers then they have fevers lasting more than 10 to 14 days. 

What causes fevers?

A fever occurs when your body temperature spikes temporarily. It is usually a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as illness or infection. Fevers are part of the body’s natural response to fighting off illness and infection, as elevating the body’s temperature can help kill off viruses and bacteria. Fevers can be either low grade, meaning the body temperature is between 98.7 and 100.4 degrees, or they are considered a true fever at 100.5 degrees and above. Fevers can cause discomfort, but low grade fevers do not require medical treatment and only some higher fevers do. Whether or not medical treatment is required is determined by a person’s age, their overall health, their side effects, and the underlying cause of the fever. Hyperthermia, or excessively high body temperature, can result from an untreated high fever and can cause serious illness and damage to the body. 

Should I seek medical attention for a low grade fever?

As a general rule, patients do not need to seek gov medical attention for a low grade fever. A low grade fever is a sign that the body is fighting off an infection, but it is not an emergency. However,  regardless of whether a person has a low grade fever or a higher fever, medical attention should be sought if the patient is experiencing severe symptoms like shortness of breath, sore throat, body aches, chest pain, runny nose difficulty breathing, severe headache, a stiff neck, or extreme lethargy or discomfort.

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What can I do to break a fever?

Even if your fever is “only” a low-grade fever, it is still uncomfortable and can make your illness feel even worse. Medication is not needed when you have a low-grade fever, and in fact, it should be avoided unless otherwise directed by your doctor. However, there are plenty of home remedies that can help you break a fever and feel more comfortable.

Get some rest: It can be hard to make time to rest when you’re sick, but the reality is that resting is one of the quickest ways to break a fever and help your body recover. Your body needs the extra energy to fight off the viral or bacterial infection, so the more you are able to rest, especially at the onset of symptoms, the quicker you will heal. 

Stay hydrated: If you have a fever, it’s likely that you’ll be sweating out a decent amount of fluid, so make sure that you stay hydrated. Clear fluids like water, iced tea, chicken broth, or diluted juice are your best bet to replace any fluids that you have lost from sweating and make sure to avoid caffeine since that will just dehydrate you further. If you are having a hard time keeping liquids down due to other symptoms of your illness, suck on ice chips instead. 

Add in electrolytes: In addition to consuming clear liquids in order to stay hydrated, consider drinking sports or electrolyte beverages like Gatorade, Vitamin Water, or Pedialyte to replace some of the sodium that is lost while you sweat. These beverages also usually have some calories, so they can help keep your energy up if you aren’t able to eat much.  

Stay cool: If you don’t have the chills, remove extra clothing and blankets to lower your body temperature. You can also lower the air conditioning temperature, turn on a fan, or open a window to let in some cool air and lower your core temperature. Cold showers, ice baths, and alcohol rubs can be dangerous, but taking a cool or room temperature shower or bath can be helpful in lowering your temperature. 

Keep track: Low grade fevers usually don’t require medical attention, but it is still a good idea to make a note of the first day and time that you register a low grade fever. Fevers that last for three or more days or don’t respond to rest or the measures above may require a trip to the doctor, as your body might not be able to fight off the infection. While no one wants to take an extra trip to the doctor’s office, even low grade fevers should be treated if they last for more than a few days. 

Although it can be tempting to take something over-the-counter such as Tylenol, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or Advil to relieve your common symptoms, remember that low grade fevers (less than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) do not require medication. Medication is not recommended for low grade fevers because it can actually prolong an illness, as viruses and germs are better able to survive in cooler temperatures. Fevers are one of your body’s many ways of fighting off infection. It's part of your immune systems defense system, so don’t use medication to artificially lower your temperature until you have a fever of 100.5 or higher. 

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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