Fever = Fight…and That’s Alright!
Recently, I saw one of my neighbors from a short distance and could immediately tell she was not feeling well. As I approached, my initial impression was confirmed as I noticed her reddened eyes surrounded by puffy eyelids and her irritated ruby nose. She insisted with a congested voice that since she’d been sick for 3 days that I should stay away from her. I was appreciative of her thoughtfulness because she didn’t want me to catch the cold virus she had. Then she said, “I’ve been taking a lot of [acetaminophen] to keep my fever down.” Really? Who officially declared that having a fever is bad? Yes, it’s uncomfortable to have a fever, but is it really bad to have one when you have an acute illness?
Why Do Fevers Occur & What Treatment is Best?
Having a fever is actually your body’s natural defensive response to a festering bacterial infection, a virus replicating uncontrollably, or a parasite mooching off of nutrients your body needs. Your body’s core temperature increases in an effort to make it extremely uncomfortable for the infectious agent to survive. Prematurely abating or aborting a fever from running its course delays your body from using natural mechanisms to fight off the offending invader which can delay your healing process. Thus, when a person has a fever, treatment should focus on distinguishing the type of infection (which may not always be possible) and remaining hydrated. Plenty of cool fluids without added sugar would be ideal. (Note: Sugar suppresses immune function.)
Children and Fevers
It’s quite common for kids under 6 to have fevers frequently due to regular exposure to infectious agents their bodies have never encountered. Thus, as their immune systems are exposed to these new bugs, certain immune cells develop antibodies that help fight off the infection so future exposures to the same bugs lead to rapid immune responses. As with adults, treating the infection and maintaining adequate hydration should be the central focus of care – not consistent use of over-the-counter medications to abort the fever. Although children also seem to have a greater risk for febrile seizures, this does not necessitate increased use of antipyretic (or fever reducing) medications in children either. According to articles published in the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the use of antipyretics, like acetaminophen, do not decrease risks of complications that occur in some cases of fever. Lack of proper hydration is usually the reason complications occur. In otherwise healthy people, use of antipyretics to decrease a fever will not improve outcomes.
The Natural Approach to Fever
As a naturopathic physician, when patients have fevers I recommend customized herbal blends that effectively kill off the offending infectious agent instead of just writing a prescription for an antibiotic. (Note: Antibiotics are ineffective for treating viral or parasitic infections.) Many antimicrobial, antiviral and antiparasitic herbs work very effectively to prevent rapid multiplication and growth of the invaders without impacting good bacteria in our guts that help us with proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. Some of my “go to” herbs are Goldenseal, Osha, Thyme and Echinacea. Used properly, these herbs and others can synergistically address the root cause of the fever – the infection. In conjunction with drinking plenty of unsweetened fluids, I also suggest cooling compresses applied to the forehead and neck coupled with other targeted water application or “hydrotherapy” treatments to provide relief and comfort. (Stay tuned for more information about this!) Finally, rest is always necessary during a fever so all resources in the body can be used for recovery.
In conclusion, the next time you or your child has a fever, remember what you learned from this article to support the process that’s naturally taking place! Also, schedule an appointment with a naturopathic physician or holistic practitioner in your area to learn effective ways to embrace the fever fight.
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