Anything that reflects the slightest thing wrong with a child
will cause concern in a parent. A fever, for example, is one
of the primary reasons that parents will call their child’s
pediatrician. Yet, the truth is, what many of us have been
told is a “low-grade fever” is a natural body temperature
for some children. Much of what we’ve believed for years
is just not true.
What is a fever?
Simply put, our body’s first line of defense when invaded
by any microbe, virus or bacteria is going to be cells called
microphages; a strong, healthy immune system may be
able to eliminate the problem with this first step alone. If
these fail to contain the “bug” then the body creates other
pyrogens and proteins to try to assist. Once these have
been created the hypothalamus in the brain recognizes
that there is an invader and raises the body temperature
to assist in killing it off.
This raised temperature will generally be just a couple of
degrees, but the hypothalamus determines, based on the
number of pyrogens and proteins, what will be necessary
to eliminate the bug. If the hypothalamus creates
additional biochemicals to try to protect the body then
the temperature raises accordingly.
Defining a Fever
For all children above the age of 3-months, a fever is
actually a good thing. It’s a sign that their immune system
is functioning properly. Although many parents will panic
when their child has a temperature that is anything over
98.6°F (37°C), and this is understandable since many
healthcare providers have called this a “low-grade fever,”
the reality is that children’s temperatures may naturally
run a little higher than what many consider the norm.
A true low grade fever is anything between 100°F (37.8°C)
and 102.2°F (39°C). This is beneficial and with most “bugs”
that a child will be exposed to, this fever will assist the
body in repelling the invader.
A moderate-grade fever is typically between 102.2°F (39°C)
and 104.5°F (40°C). This temperature is still considered
beneficial and, if a child’s body has reached this, it’s what’s
needed to kill whatever bacteria or virus their body is
attempting to fight.
A high fever is going to be over 104.5°F (40°C). This fever
may cause the child some discomfort and result in a bit
of crankiness. Generally indicative of a bacterial infection,
this fever means that the body is fighting something a little
more serious than the common cold and, while it will not
cause brain damage or any other harm to your child it is
wise to seek assistance from your healthcare provider.
A serious fever is one that is at or above 108°F (42°C), as
this fever can be harmful.
Can a fever be dangerous?
Fevers caused by the body’s immune system are not
dangerous, and the hypothalamus will control the body
temperature and not allow it to get so high as to cause
harm. While it can be frightening to have your child or a
child in your care run a moderate to high fever, it is simply
their body doing what it was designed to do.
The only body temperature that can actually cause brain
damage, despite what many parents believe, is 108°F,
and this body temperature cannot typically be achieved
on its own but requires extreme external environmental
temperatures; for instance, if a child is left in a closed car
in hot weather.
What about fever reducers?
Since it is a very rare fever that can actually cause any
kind of harm to your child, the best response is to let it
run its course; most fevers will resolve themselves in 24 to
72 hours. Be aware that fevers will naturally spike a little
in the late afternoon and evening so a slight increase in
temperature during these times is not a cause for alarm.
No matter the circumstances, do not give your child an
over-the-counter chemical. Dr. Klass says, “Too small a
dose of an antipyretic (fever medicine) may be ineffective;
too much can be toxic.” The risks associated with these
chemicals far outweigh any potential danger from the fever.
The typical over-the-counter drug is going to contain
acetaminophen which has been known to cause liver
damage. Other fever reducers include Ibuprofen which
can cause stomach upset, and aspirin is associated with
Reye’s syndrome when given to children under 19.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not
recommend fever-reducing drugs but says, “Fever is not
an illness, rather, it is a symptom of sickness and is usually
a positive sign that the body is fighting infection.” Even
with high temperatures the AAP says, “Fevers generally do
not need to be treated with medication unless your child is
uncomfortable or has a history of febrile convulsions. The fever
may be important in helping your child fight the infection.”
The Best Response
The best response to a fever below 104.5°F (40°C) for
children over the age of 3 years is lots of rest and clear
fluids. Since the fever will cause your child to sweat they will
lose sodium and water which must be replaced with proper
fluids. This does not include Gatorade or other sugary
Based on age and temperature a child should see a
healthcare provider right away:
• If a child younger than 3 months is running any grade
• If a child between 3 months and 3 years has a
temperature above 102.2°F (39°C) and appears ill – it
should be noted that even teething may also cause a
slight increase in temperature
• A child of any age that has a temperature at or above
Additionally, since dehydration is a potential side effect of
fever, watch your child for the following: dry mouth, lack of
urine or wet diapers for 6 to 8 hours (or only a small amount
of really dark urine), dry skin, lethargy, irritability, fatigue or
with an older child, dizziness. These signs of dehydration
may be a concern and the child should be seen by a
healthcare professional; especially if they are unable to keep
down clear fluids.
In children that are under the age of 5 years a fever can
also lead to a seizure, known as a febrile seizure. While this
can be frightening it will typically have no lasting effects.
During a seizure the child should be on their side or with
their stomach to the ground and contact your healthcare
provider as soon as it stops.
In 1980, Dr. Barton Schmitt published a now classic article
where he coined the phrase “fever phobia”. Many parents
believed that untreated fevers could actually rise to critical
levels and that even low-grade fevers could have serious
In 2001, Dr. Michael Crocetti, an assistant professor at
Johns Hopkins was the lead author of a study called
Fever Phobia Revisited: Have Parental Misconceptions
About Fever Changed in 20 Years? He found that 20 years
later not much had changed and that despite education,
parents still believe that fevers are dangerous. Though
they do increase the need for fluids, fevers in and of
themselves are not harmful.
The Chiropractic Factor
Your Family Wellness Chiropractor is the only healthcare
professional that recognizes and supports the body’s
natural ability to fight off infection. The immune system,
like all other bodily systems, is controlled by the central
nervous system via the spinal cord, which is housed in the
spine. Your Doctor of Chiropractic helps keep the spine
aligned allowing messages to travel without interruption
from the brain to the rest of the body.
A fever is, quite simply, a natural part of your child’s immune
system. When it is functioning at its absolute best, your
child’s body will fight off most foreign invaders so swiftly
that they will have no outward effect at all. However,
when necessary your child’s immune system will raise their
temperature to create a hostile environment for that invader.
It’s how a properly functioning body functions.
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