When your body experiences an increase in body temperature, it is known as a fever.
A fever can be indicative of a number of things—from a bacterial infection to an inflammatory condition. While it may not seem like it, a fever is actually good for your body, as it’s typically the body’s way of fighting off infection.
For an increase in body temperature to qualify as a fever, it must reach 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you have a fever, it’s common to also have a headache, muscle aches, dehydration, sweating, shivering and fatigue.
How to handle a fever varies depending on age. Here’s what you need to know about breaking a fever so you can return to normal.
Steps to Breaking a Fever
The first step you need to take if you or a loved one has a fever is see how high it is. This is done by using a thermometer to take the temperature. Anything over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit is considered a fever.
Once you’ve established you have a fever, the best thing you can do is get in bed and rest.
Hydration is key when you have a fever since you lose a lot of fluid through sweating. Water, iced tea or juice that’s been diluted are all great options.
If your fever has lasted more than a day, you may want to move to a sports drink with electrolytes to hydrate yourself even more.
You may also want to take an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to take the fever down. Be sure to read the instructions and follow the dosage directions. You should never give ibuprofen to a baby under the age of six months.
Keeping your body cool is also a good idea. This can be done by removing any extra layers of clothing or blankets (unless you have the chills) and taking tepid baths. Do not try to take a cold bath, ice cube bath or alcohol bath since those can be extremely dangerous.
How to Take Your Temperature
Although it seems simple, many people don’t know how to properly take a temperature.
The baseline body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Although it’s normal for your temperature to fluctuate slightly throughout the day, this is a good place to start.
There are multiple types of thermometers that you can use, allowing the temperature to be taken orally, rectally, in the ear, in the armpit or across the forehead.
If you do take your temperature in the armpit, it’s important to note that it is typically one degrees Fahrenheit lower than any other thermometer, so anything higher than 99.4 degrees Fahrenheit is considered a fever.
For infants and babies, a rectal thermometer is usually recommended for the most accurate reading. However, if you have another preference, you should communicate that with your child’s doctor.
When to See a Doctor for a Fever
The actions you take when you have a fever are dependent on your age; however, it’s important that you treat a fever since letting it go can result in serious complications.
Newborn babies: If you have a newborn under the age of three months, it’s imperative that they see a doctor as soon as their temperature hits 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit—even if there are no other symptoms present.
Infants: For infants between the ages of three and six months, it is not necessary to go to the doctor for a fever up to 102 degrees Fahrenheit; however, if the fever rises any higher, call a doctor immediately.
Young children: If your child is older than six months, but under the age of two years, you may take an over-the-counter medication that your doctor has recommended. If you notice the fever lingers for more than a day, doesn’t go away with medication or becomes worse, call the pediatrician as soon as possible.
Older children: Kids ages two to 17 typically don’t need medicine to help bring down a fever as long as it’s under 102 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if they have other symptoms, such as muscle aches or irritability, they may find relief from medication. If your child’s fever lasts more than three days, see a doctor.
Adults: Like older children, adults typically don’t need medicine for a fever that’s under 102 degrees Fahrenheit; however, anything higher may require medication. Once your fever rises above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, or fails to go down once you take medication, you should call your doctor.
Elderly adults: Although a fever in adults over the age of 65 doesn’t necessarily warrant medical attention, it is important that you watch for other symptoms, like shortness of breath or confusion. If these symptoms appear, contact a health professional immediately. A doctor should also be consulted if the fever goes above 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
A fever becomes a much bigger deal for anyone with a compromised immune system. This includes those with cancer, HIV or autoimmune diseases.
No matter how healthy you are, if your fever spikes to 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, it’s time to see a doctor. This could indicate there is an infection your body is unable to fight off.
One of the most important things you can do when you develop a fever is keep track of the duration. Even if you are a young adult, a fever that lasts longer than two days is worth seeing s doctor for.
When is a Fever an Emergency?
There are many symptoms that can accompany a fever that would be considered an emergency.
If you have a fever along with any of the following, seek medical attention immediately:
- Mental confusion
- Breathing or chest pain
- Sore throat
- A severe headache
- Abdominal pain
- Stiff neck when you try to bend forward
- Extreme irritability
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