Social media really lets you know what other people think, and what’s going on in their homes. I’ve quickly gathered, mostly through the “magic” of Facebook, that many parents are afraid of fevers. They worry as soon as their child spikes one and they quickly rush to either call the doctor or give Tylenol or another fever-reducing medication. They obsessively take their child’s temperature, worry that it is “really high” if it is over 101, and try to make the fever stay gone. Some even alternate a couple different fever reducers just to make sure that fever stays away.
But is this really the right way to handle a fever?
No. Parents who react this way do not understand what a fever really is, nor the proper way to treat it. A fever is not an illness. It is merely a symptom of an illness, a sign that the body is trying to fight off some type of “bug” that has gotten in.
Think of it this way: when some bad bacteria or virus has invaded the body, it has done so because the body provided it hospitable conditions. The body instinctively knows that a higher temperature will create an inhospitable environment and kill the nasty, invading bug. So, it reacts by spiking a fever in order to create that condition.
What happens when you rush to lower the fever? Suddenly the bad bug can get a foothold again, because the temperature is no longer high enough to kill it! This prolongs the illness, not only by initially preventing the body from killing it, but also by allowing it to multiply and spread through the body even more. The body will bring the fever back just as soon as it can, often well before the medication has technically “worn off” and might spike it very high, very quickly to try to rapidly kill the bug before it can spread further. This can become a dangerous situation, especially if the parent reacts to lower the temperature again.
What’s the Harm?
Some of you might say, “Okay, but my child is miserable and doesn’t rest very well with a fever. Isn’t it better to lower it and allow them to sleep? What’s the real harm in lowering it a little?”
Unfortunately, a lot. First of all, Tylenol and ibuprofen can be quite dangerous. They’re the #1 and #2 causes of liver failure in this country (and other developed countries, including Canada and the UK). Tylenol depletes glutathione, which functions heavily in immune function. Also, since these medications are foreign substances, and therefore effectively small doses of poison, the body’s resources are directed towards clearing the body of this “poison” before it can do any harm, instead of fighting the actual illness!
So you’re risking liver damage (over time, or with an overdose; this becomes much more likely if you’re following the outdated advice to switch back and forth between Tylenol and ibuprofen every few hours, or giving larger-than-average doses because the doctor said it was “safe”), depleting glutathione and the immune system’s functioning, and diverting the body’s resources to clearing the Tylenol from the system instead of the illness.
That’s why a child whose fever is treated really might be sick for days longer. Would you rather have an unhappy, uncomfortable child for 12 – 24 hours, or 3 – 4 days? That can be the real difference between treating or not treating the fever.
So I’m Supposed to Do Nothing?
Obviously it flies in the face of our instincts as parents to do nothing. When our child is hurting or sick or upset, we want to do do something. But the vast majority of illnesses are really over-treated because of anxious parents who just want to do something to help.
There are things we can do. Medicating isn’t recommended. But there are other ways to help.
First, once you’re sure your child has a fever (and you don’t even need a thermometer to tell: a child who is hot but not sweaty has a fever. Hot and sweaty is normal and just “hot.” The body inhibits sweating, the mechanism by which it cools itself, so that the fever can be maintained. That’s why “dry heat” means fever), note the child’s behavior. You do not need to know the exact temperature; it is not important.
Some may worry about brain damage, but this is extremely unlikely unless the temperature gets up towards the 105 – 107 range, but typically the body will not naturally allow the temperature to go high enough to actually cause itself damage. The fever is a way to help the body fight off illness, and it will not harm itself in the process. Extremely high fevers that can cause damage are often because the parents tried to artificially lower the fever, or caused by vaccines/medication. Normal, natural illnesses do not cause these damaging fevers.
Other parents worry about febrile seizures. These generally occur if the temperature spikes very high, very quickly. This, again, is usually in reaction to a vaccine, a parent’s attempt to lower the temperature artificially, or some other “unnatural” toxin being introduced to the body. Natural illnesses usually do not spike fevers very quickly, they tend to rise slowly, and febrile seizures are extremely rare. Should they occur, though, they are not harmful. They are part of the body’s attempt to regain homeostasis and they do not cause permanent damage. They are scary to watch, but they will not hurt your child.
Instead, just note your child’s symptoms and work according to those.
Is the child:
- Otherwise acting normal?
- Seeming sleepy?
- Nauseous or vomiting?
- Fatigued but unable to sleep?
Children who are otherwise fine or who are sleepy need nothing. Either leave them alone or put them to bed. Their body will fight off the junk while they rest (or not).
If the child does have other symptoms, treat those first. Try to stop the vomiting by allowing the stomach total rest for at least 30 minutes, then introducing Gripe Water, breastmilk, or ginger/fennel tea. If the child cannot stop vomiting for 30 minutes, strong black tea with honey and/or activated charcoal can help to settle things down. Do not offer food until after the child has not vomited for at least a few hours and has slept. Digestion takes a lot of energy, and when sick, the child’s energy is better used to fight off the illness than digest food. Homemade rehydration drinks, raw or lightly cooked(pastured!) egg yolks, or homemade stock can all be excellent, nourishing “foods” for someone who has just gotten over a bout of vomiting. (Note: my kids have NEVER vomited longer than 12 hours and Daniel never has at all…and this is what I’ve done.)
If the child is merely restless, try a bath with epsom salts and/or lavender oil. Make sure the bath is warm. If it is too cool, the body will react by raising the fever higher to compensate. Climb in with your child and snuggle, breastfeed if you can. Then wrap your child in clean, warm clothes and put them to bed. Usually the epsom salts and/or lavender oil (essential oil only please) is calming enough to allow the child to sleep.
Arnica (topically or orally) can help with body aches.
Ginger tea can help clear stuffy noses and help sore throats.
Belladonna may reduce pain or slightly (naturally) reduce the fever — this wouldn’t be my first choice, but if the child just cannot sleep, you could try it.
The point is, you don’t do nothing. You treat the other symptoms, not the fever, enough so that your child can rest. And of course, lots of cuddles are always good.
If your child can sleep, let him, as much as he wants. My daughter’s early illnesses (11 months to about 18 months) typically resulted in her spending most of the day and night asleep, but then the next day she’d be fine.
And of course, don’t forget to pump up the immune system with raw garlic, coconut oil, fermented cod liver oil, elderberry, and all those other wonderful food-and-herb items that can make a big difference!
(I do think FCLO makes a huge difference. The flu we had a couple weeks ago is one that’s been going around here. Most people who encountered it were sick 4 – 7 days, and many passed it back and forth between family members, ultimately being down for 2 or 3 weeks! It ran through our house in only about 5 days and never came back. We had all the same symptoms, but severity and duration was shorter. Ben, who was not consistently taking FCLO, was sick the longest, at about 4 days. Bekah was sick for about 12 hours, Daniel for maybe 8 — and he only had the fever and lack of appetite, otherwise was playing and acting normal — and I had it for a day. It was no big deal for us while most others struggled.)
It’s also interesting to note that I have never treated a fever. Not even when my daughter had a temp of 104 at 16 months (I think that was the last time I even bothered to check). She wanted to snuggle, then sleep after we took our bath. She did sleep part of the night in my bed because she was restless, but she slept, and when she woke in the morning her fever was gone. It did not come back. It ran its course in about 15 hours. I have never had a child with a fever longer than 24 hours, and I honestly don’t remember ever having one longer than 18 hours. I don’t think it is a coincidence at all that I don’t treat fevers and they don’t last long.
So I Should Never Treat the Fever?
In general…no. There should never be a natural situation in which a fever could become dangerous. It could happen that your child is irritable and unable to rest or sleep at all. In this case, I’d try belladonna first (Daniel was teething along with his fever/flu and would not stop squirming in pain and screaming…a dose of belladonna and he was asleep 5 minutes later). Some parents who do not know alternative remedies or do not have them available may choose to treat a fever that is clearly making a child miserable and unable to rest after exhausting all other options. But this should be very rare, lowering the fever should not be your first goal. This has never happened to me.
If a fever is caused by a non-natural cause, like a drug reaction, vaccine reaction, foreign poison/toxin introduced into the body — seek medical help. This will probably require additional treatment that is beyond the scope of home care. When possible, avoid these situations. Of course, this is not always possible; there is always the chance that your child could get into something when you are not looking! (Good reason to keep poison locked up, but accidents do happen.)
Finally, yes, I do take a rather extreme approach to natural health and I am, in almost all cases, anti-drug. I believe that drugs are best saved for true emergencies and should not be used so casually. If it’s life or death, take the drug! (Hopefully, in that cause, under a doctor’s care!) If it’s a minor, temporary annoyance, like ear infections, fevers, colds, flus, headaches, etc. — just ride it out and use natural comfort measures. I’m of the opinion that our bodies cannot be ‘deficient’ in drugs, so we should not turn to them as a primary means of getting well. We can be deficient in vitamins, minerals, etc. and so we can support our bodies with natural means to correct any deficiencies and help our bodies fight for themselves. I haven’t encountered, nor have I been able to think of any scenario in which I feel my family would ever need drugs. We don’t keep any in the house at all, not for adults or children. This is purely my opinion here and I’m not asking anyone else to adopt it as their own. I’m putting it out there to explain my perspective and why I feel so strongly about some of these health issues.
Do you treat fevers? Why or why not? How do you help your children when sick?