Fevers: An Immune System Response to Be Supported, Not Feared
When your child becomes ill and develops a fever, your initial reaction as a parent, is to suppress the fever so the child can feel better. Our initial instinct is one to fear the fever and to reach for the Tylenol or Motrin. What many do not realize is that a fever is the body’s natural response to fighting off an infection and it is not something to be feared.
What is a Fever?
Many parents believe that 99 degrees F is a fever or even 100 degrees F is a fever, but this is not the case. In the medical world, a fever is not considered a true fever until the temperature is greater than 100.4 degrees F or 38 degrees C.
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a clinical report reviewing that most parents give their children fever-reducing medications even when there is not a true fever. Fever reducing medications only bring down the temperature 2-3 degrees. Our brains are intricately designed and know when our body gets too hot. According to Seattle Children’s, most fevers from an infection do not go above 103-104 degrees F and are harmless.
Body temperatures fluctuate throughout the day. This process is called “diurnal variation”. Our body temperatures tend to be lowest in the morning and highest in the evening. This explains why with children, it would seem that a fever is always worse at bedtime. In reality, this is the body’s natural fluctuation in temperature.
Fever: An Immune Response
Dr. Natasha recommends that when we have a fever, we should not interfere with it and allow it to run its course, “allow your body to run high temperature for as long as it needs to, you clean your body, remove chronic infections, prevent cancer formation and rejuvenate yourself” (52). What many do not realize and we are not taught is that if we suppress and prevent the immune system from doing its job, by using the fever appropriately, then we are actually laying the path for other issues down the road such as autoimmunity, inflammation, allergies, parasites, chronic infections, and cancer in the possible future (53). According to Naturopathic Pediatrics, “It’s not unusual for children to have very high fevers. In fact, it is generally very helpful for kids to get robust fevers, as it signals a strong immune response which can quickly eliminate pathogens (the bad bugs).” A sauna can also be beneficial for the same purpose as a fever and can aid in healing from illnesses.
Children have immature immune systems that need a lot of “teaching”. A fever is an educational experience for that child’s system and we do not want them to miss this learning opportunity. It can be tiring and exhausting for the parent of a child who is ill, but the best thing to do for the child is to allow the fever to run its course. The most important thing is to comfort the child, keep them warm, and ensure they are staying hydrated. In most cases a fever will only last 12-24 hours (53). Most are a result of a common cold virus, but it is important to pay attention the child and how they are looking and feeling as more serious infections do need medical attention.
How to Manage a Fever
Dr. Natasha explains the best thing for a fever is to stay in bed and to keep sweating. Sweating is a way to naturally remove toxins and a defense mechanism of the body to bring down a temperature. We want the body to keep warm and keep sweating so those toxins can keep getting removed. We can provide extra clothing and a warm blanket. Shivering is also a natural response to a fever. Dr. Natasha advises to only use cotton and wool materials, things that are natural (53).
It is very important to stay well-hydrated. This can be done by encouraging warm water with fresh lemon. Lemon will help provide some fresh minerals along with Vitamin C. We can also support the body with a butter-honey mixture (or coconut oil) and a pinch of mineral salt. Most who are ill with a fever are lacking an appetite as the body is using all of its energy to fight off the infection. When the body is sweating to fight off an infection, we are losing salt from the body so it is important to provide mineral salts to replenish this. Dr. Natasha states, “Just drinking plenty of hot water with lemon and eating the butter-honey-salt mixture is quite enough” (54).
When the temperature starts coming down and one is ready to eat, it is best to start with homemade meat stock (chicken stock is easy to digest and pleasant tasting). Then start adding in the chicken, skin, etc. If chicken is not tolerated, stocks and meats can be from other animal sources can be used. It is beneficial to start adding probiotic foods with soups such as yogurt, kefir, or sour cream, “which will stimulate immunity and heal your gut lining” (54). She advises to not eat anything else. Kraut Juice is very beneficial to support the body’s immune system. It is a beneficial healing remedy and is high in Vitamin C. Homeopathic remedies can also be used to support the body as it is fighting an infection, will discuss this in more detail in another post.
Febrile seizures occur when the body is responding to a rapid increase in temperature in a short period of time. The body responds by producing a febrile seizure which is displayed by involuntary movements, twitching, or loss of consciousness for a few seconds. According to Seattle Children’s, only 4% of children develop a febrile seizure. They are actually not harmful and do not result in permanent brain damage, neurological problems, or death. “Febrile seizures are not epilepsy and generally require not treatment… Seizures are a cleansing procedure of the brain” (54). They may seem scary, but they are not. A febrile seizure can be a few seconds in length to a few minutes in length. According to a post “febrile seizures only occur in kids age 6 months to 5 years old). No matter what age, fever reducing medication do not prevent febrile seizures. If your child has a febrile seizure, most are benign, but your child should still be evaluated by your pediatrician. In the meantime, try your best to keep body temperature below 102.2 degrees F while allowing the fever to run its course. If the temperature starts getting above this, undress and use moist cloths on the skin.
Worse case-scenario when the above measures are not helping, Dr. Natasha advises it is okay to dissolve a small tablet of aspirin (75 mg) in a cup of warm water and give the child a few tablespoons of the water. You can also use natural willow tea instead of aspirin. We do not want to bring the fever down too much as we do not want to inhibit the body’s natural immune response (55).
**If a child has a seizure that lasts more than 10-15 minutes or has recurring seizures, seek medical assistance.**
When to Be Concerned
There are a few things to monitor when your child is fighting an infection.
· If the child develops a fever of 105 degrees F they should be evaluated as this could signify a bacterial infection
· Neurological damage is more likely when a fever reaches 107 degrees F
· A fever in an infant less than 3 months of age with a fever of 100.4 degrees F or greater needs to be evaluated by a pediatrician
· A high fever in pregnancy should also require contacting your Provider or OB
Things to Keep in Mind
Pay attention to how the child or person is looking than what the thermometer reads. Use your instincts when your child is acting abnormal as this is the best indicator of a more serious concern.
Don’t run to fever reducing medications when your child gets a fever. It is not true that stopping a fever with medications will stop an infection. Cytokines in the body cause a fever and tell our immune system to do its job properly, so ultimately, we do not want to interfere with this amazing process in the body.
Naturopathic Pediatrics makes clear that Tylenol (also known as Acetaminophen) is highly toxic to our livers. In a person with GAPS, our bodies and livers are already very toxic and we want to avoid these types of situations.
Support the body’s natural immune response by allowing a fever to run its course. Allow the body to sweat, removing toxins, keep well hydrated, and once ready to eat slowly give meat stock. Make sure to incorporate probiotic rich foods and ferments into the diet to give your microbiome a boost and for many other health benefits. At the end of the day, a fever is a good thing and we should embrace that the body is doing what it was created to do!
· Campbell-McBride, N. 2020. Gut and Physiology Syndrome. Medinform Publishing.