Imagine this: You feel sick. Your body temperature rises to 38-39 degree C. Your terrible headache and aching muscles come with a raw throat and blocked nose. Your hand is blindly groping for the nearest Tylenol®. If it is your child who is sick, you immediately give them the fever reducing drug. Fevers can be serious business, especially as it indicates the presence of an invader – but do you need to reach for the fever reducing medicine immediately?
Fevers are beneficial. Did you know that the concept of automatically reducing fever goes against current medical knowledge? Actually, it also goes against ancient knowledge. It was the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates – whose oath our doctors still pledge, who said “Give me a fever and I will cure all disease.”
Fever is a defense mechanism that the body uses to kill viruses and other germs – literally cooking them to death. However, fevers also increase the metabolism of key cells in the body. For example, white blood cells are 7 to 10 times more active under a fever than without. Think about it: without a
fever during an illness, your white blood cells will only operate at 10%-13% of their potential capacity. Fevers also stimulate different immune reactions and the production of interferon – your body’s main factor in fighting viruses.
There are, of course, instances when taking urgent evasive action to subdue a fever is sometimes called for. Fever episodes that involve the very young (three months or younger), the aged or anyone with seriously debilitating pre-fever infirmities, should always be dealt with under the appropriate watchful eye of a qualified health practitioner.
Generally, however, producing a fever is an important sign that your immune system is strong and able to respond properly to trauma and infection. Unfortunately, today we see fewer and fewer people, even children, who are able to produce a high fever during an acute condition like a cold or flu. Instead, many people tend to have a low-grade fever or no fever at all – with cold and flu symptoms persisting for extended periods: perhaps weeks – perhaps for the duration of the cold and flu season.
Many factors contribute to such a situation. One of them is over-medication. Most people do not trust their own bodies any more. Many of us do not understand that our immune system is complex and sophisticated. We are equipped with numerous protective mechanisms and these mechanisms are working hard to maintain our body’s life sustaining balance. Fever, while it may appear to divert from our body’s homeostasis (balance), is indeed, one of these life sustaining mechanisms.
So, if fevers are important for making your body as inhospitable as possible to the invader, why do we try to suppress them so thoroughly? There are myths about children dying or being brain damaged by having a high fever. But, these problems are never caused by fever. In fact, it is the serious illness itself that causes the brain damage. The fever was only trying to help fight the infection.
The other fear is that fevers cause seizures. This is not a myth, but their reported effects seem exaggerated. Only some children (about 5-10% of all children up to age 6) have a tendency to get a short convulsion when their body experiences a sudden temperature rise or a higher fever. These convulsions are not dangerous, never cause brain damage, and usually last less than 10 minutes. Only about 50% of these children will ever have another convulsion.
Dehydration, on the other hand, can actually be a serious complication of the fever itself since fevers increase the evaporation of water from your body. But, this problem can be easily prevented by increasing fluid intake. In general, it is a good idea to increase your fluid intake whenever you get sick
– not just when you have a fever.
A fever itself IS beneficial. It helps your body fight off infection and is an important sign of a strong immune system. Next time you get sick and have a fever, be thankful for your strong immune system. Be generous with what it needs to do its job, starting with liquids and rest. If you need guidance, seek care from your qualified health practitioner. But, do not spoil your body’s efforts by automatically taking fever reducing drugs.
For more information on which activities and homeopathic remedies can help you during cold and flu season, check out my next post. If you have any comments or topics you would like addressed in future posts, please comment below. If you would like to seek care, please contact me.
Veronika Zhmurko MD (UA, PhD in Clinical Immunology)