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Fever Management – A Dying Art

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Unfortunately when the subject of fevers comes up for parents a great deal of fear is also aroused unnecessarily. This fear is based upon a lack of understanding of what a fever is for and how it works. Whenever I explain to someone what a fever is and why it does what it does their fear of it disappears. Firstly it is important to understand a fever is the body’s healthy and natural response to an invading organism. When these organisms invade the body the thermostat is elevated sending the temperature up. The reason for this is the same as why we cook a piece of chicken thoroughly at a high temperature. These microbes and viruses hate high temperatures, therefore if we undercook the chicken we run the risk of those bugs not dying. Well the same goes for fevers. If we lower the temperature of a child then the bugs stay alive and continue to cause problems in their body. Allowing the fever to do its thing will ultimately encourage your child’s immune system to become stronger and fight future invading organisms much more efficiently.

 Febrile convulsions are often the most frightening for parents when discussing fevers however these are not dangerous. A minority of children are prone to getting convulsions which can occur with a fast moving temperature but most last less than a minute and according to Westmead Children’s Hospital show no permanent brain damage or risk of epilepsy even up to five minute durations. They also state that the use of paracetamol and ibuprofen will not reduce the incidence of seizures.

 As with every aspect of a children’s health we as parents need to be proactive and informed. When it comes to the majority of fevers in children I believe that a parent is the best doctor they have as they know their child better than anyone else and can pick very early on whether they are starting to show early warning signs that are uncharacteristic of what is normal. When a child has a fever there are a few things to be aware of which warrant calling your doctor.

  • If the child is under the age of two months and their temperature is 38°C or more.
  • If they have difficulty breathing, twitching, repeated vomiting, strange movements, continually listless and irritable or appear seriously ill.
  • If you cant make contact with your child either eye to eye or verbally.

 

Another concern with fevers is that when they are high they can cause brain damage. In a normal healthy fever the body’s thermostat will cut off around 40.5°C which may seem high but is actually quite safe. The cells in our body can handle up to 42.2°C before they die which means there is a comfortable gap between a safe temperature and a dangerous one.

When a child or adult has a fever there are a number of normal signs which can be observed to help you manage it properly. Firstly when the body is cold and shivering this means that the temperature is going up, it will peak hopefully around the 40°C mark and stay there for some time before coming down. This is when the body feels very hot, flushed and sweaty. This pattern will continue to happen until the infection is gone which may take up to four days. A person with a fever will often be lethargic, not hungry, have aches and pains, and want a quiet place with lots of cuddles. It is important to keep their fluids up so that they do not dehydrate.

 When the temperature gets too high for your comfort level (and you need to determine what that is) and is still rising then it needs to be reduced. Tepid baths, face washers, a fan, homeopathics and some herbal teas are all useful. However when it comes to paracetamol and ibuprofen Westmead Children’s Hospital state that they are not effective in lowering the fever. The other issue with paracetamol is that it is a liver toxin and needs to be treated with respect especially in children.

 The question you need to be asking is – why do I want to lower this temperature? Is it for the child’s benefit or yours because as you now know a fever is a friend and lowering the temperature can weaken the body’s defences and make the bugs stronger.

 I have nursed my children through many 40°C fevers successfully with out any medication and they are healthy vibrant kids. The first time for us was scary but now we feel very comfortable managing it, and rarely has any fever lasted more than 24 hours with the longest lasting 2 days. Children are meant to get fevers, it is a vital part in the development of their immune system and yes it can be an unnerving thing to go through the first time but as I always say arm yourself with knowledge and understanding and your children will thank you for it.

2 Comments on “Fever Management – A Dying Art”

  1. Michelle says:

    I agree wholeheartedly! It’s so nice to see my own thoughts reflected here 🙂

    I’m always bothered by the parents that dose their kids up with panadol “just in case” & often comment to them about the stress this places on their children’s livers which have to process these chemicals.

  2. Charndra says:

    I also totally agree – I’ve found that my babies get hot overnight, and I feed them through it, knowing they are ‘burning off’ the bug. Most of the time, it is resolved by morning!

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