Fever is one of the most misunderstood childhood ailments. Fever is not a disease–it is a symptom of the body’s attempt to fight off an infection. An increase in body temperature enhances the immune defenses, destroying viruses and bacteria.
Yet many parents automatically reach for acetaminophen (Tylenol) when their child’s temperature goes above normal. Actually, suppressing fever interferes with the healing process and can prolong the illness. Instead, try to make your child comfortable, using the fever soothers listed below, and let the fever run its course.
Your child’s temperature is not a reliable indicator of the severity of the illness. Young children can be very sick with a temperature of 100 degrees F. or less, or they can experience little discomfort and no danger with a temperature of 104 degrees F. Because even a temperature as high as 104 degrees F may not need to be lowered, watch your child’s behavior, not the thermometer.
Febrile seizures—which are triggered by a rapid temperature increase in response to infection and affect two to five percent of children between the ages of six months and three years—understandably worry parents when a fever gets too high. However, these convulsions are almost always the result of a predisposition or an underlying disease. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that though febrile seizures are harrowing for parents, they do not cause any damage in most cases. Most children who have one seizure do not ever have another, and there is no connection between unsuppressed febrile seizures and epilepsy.
Here are some things you can try when your child has discomfort from a fever:
- Herbs. Herbs can increase comfort without interfering with the infection-fighting action of a fever. Elder flower and yarrow induce sweating and are helpful in managing hot fevers. Other herbs to use for fever in children include peppermint, chamomile, red clover, and rosemary. Make a tea of any or all of the above, sweetened with a little honey (never give honey to a child under a year old). Ginger is a warming herb to use when your child has a fever with chills. You can give your child a tea of ginger and honey, or have him try a ginger foot bath. Grate a piece of fresh ginger and cover it with boiling water; let the water cool down, then soak your child’s feet in it.
- Aromatherapy. Lemon, lavender, thyme, and pine are all scents that are soothing for fevers and contain immune-boosting properties. Give your child a bath with a few drops of any or all of these oils, or put them in an aromatherapy diffuser in your child’s room. To cool a child down, put a cloth dipped in a cool tea of lavender on his forehead.
- Homeopathy. Aconite is often indicated in the early stages of illness. Belladonna is for fever with flushed cheeks and dilated pupils. Nux Vomica is for fevers resulting from overindulgences such as overeating or not getting enough sleep. Pulsatilla is for fevers that involve runny noses, tears, and clinginess.
- Hydrotherapy. For mild fevers of 99 to 102 degrees F., a hot-to-tolerance bath or footbath will raise your child’s body temperature. An “artificial fever” of this sort can theoretically break the fever and speed the healing. To bring down a higher fever, you could try a tepid sponge bath. Never put your child in water so cold that he shivers, or so hot that it is uncomfortable.
- Light foods and fluids. Although feverish children are usually not hungry, they may be quite thirsty. Fruit juices and teas can help replenish lost fluids and nutrients. Try rose hip tea with a little honey, or hot lemonaide—the juice of a lemon in a mug of hot water, sweetened with honey. (Again, never give honey to a child under age one.) A wonderful drink for strengthening the immune system is freshly squeezed carrot and red beet juice.
- Once your child’s appetite returns, raw fruits and vegetables will provide needed vitamins and minerals, stimulate digestion, and provide roughage to cleanse the system. Foods high in vitamin C (apples, berries, citrus fruits, carrots, broccoli, parsley, green peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, rose hips, and honey) and carotenes (apricots, bananas, peaches, prunes, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and yellow vegetables) will help fight the infection.
- Comfort. You are the best source of comfort for your feverish child. Stay home with your child and read, tell stories, rock, and sing to her.
Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering magazine from 1980 to 2011 and the editor-in-chief of Mothering.com from 1995 to 2012.. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of three.