If your child has ever gotten a fever, you might know how frightening it can be. How could such a scary experience possibly be good? The truth is without fevers we would all succumb to infections. When animals are deprived of the ability to fight infection with a fever, they die. Fevers fight infections.
Fevers are nature’s healing response. They should not be suppressed. A fever speeds up the metabolism and heart rate, increasing blood circulation.
It increases white blood cell production to fight bacteria and viruses, and it increases the production of interferon, a natural antiviral chemical in the body.
Babies get fevers to exercise their immune systems so they can build their own immunity to the pathogenic microbes they encounter.
For all of these reasons, fevers represent a healing process and a healthy body defense.
What is a Fever?
A fever is a temperature above 100.5F. Anything below is just a normal variation of temperature. Fever is caused by the white blood cells response to invasion by pathogens, viruses, or bacteria. The white blood cells release the chemical pyrogen, which stimulates the hypothalamus in the brain to turn up the body’s thermostat.
Fever is often accompanied by discomfort and other symptoms, and these can be treated. A fever with localized systems such as a runny nose, ear pain, or diarrhea is less worrisome than in babies without other apparent causes. However, many illnesses in babies begin with fever as the first sign, signaling that the body is mounting an immune response.
Some babies develop a fever much more readily than others. With every virus they will get hot. Some will get a fever at any opportunity. Other babies get fevers that come and go repeatedly for days on end. And sometimes a fever and fussiness will be the only symptoms of an illness. Then there are babies that get cold symptoms but seldom have a fever. Some babies run a temperature when they are teething.
Fevers in themselves are not dangerous to babies, but a persistent fever may be an indication of an infection that warrants professional evaluation and treatment. Whenever there is no apparent cause for a fever, it is worrisome if the fever persist for more than a day. Vomiting in a baby with a fever is always a cause for concern, since vomiting frequently occurs in meningitis.
Any baby under 3 months of age with a fever should be seen by a doctor. Infants do not have the ability to fight off infection on their own, and even a small infection can quickly develop into a serious, invasive illness. With any illness, the most important indicator of the need for medical care is your baby’s level of energy, not the level of the fever. A baby who appears to be weak and lethargic and who has little energy to cry or nurse is worrisome.
Seizures occur with fevers usually occurring on the first day. Although these are frightening to parents, they are harmless to children. They do not cause brain damage or any subsequent learning problems. Giving fever reducing drugs does not prevent febrile seizures.
Treatment for Fevers
Treating your babies fever and acute symptoms at home is easy. The goal of the treatment is to encourage healing and stimulate a strong immune response. Reducing the fever is not the goal, as the fever will do what is necessary to fight the illness. Natural remedies will encourage the fight.
The first and easiest remedy to try is homeopathic Belladonna.
Classic Indicators for Belladonna:
- fevers with sudden onset
- radiating heat
- flushing redness of the skin
- redness in the throat, eyes, ears or skin
- older children will complain of a headache
- babies are often quiet and subdued, moaning or hot to the touch
If babies are very uncomfortable and screaming in apparent pain, then trying Chamomilla is a better option. Often one dose will calm your baby and allow her to get back to sleep and rest.
Herbal Remedies & Essential Oils
Some great ones to have on hand when fevers strike are:
- Echinacea (I use an alcohol free tincture)
- Black elderberry syrup
- Peppermint/Spearmint – apply 1 drop diluted in 1 TBSP of fractioned coconut oil and apply to the feet every two hours. Cover with socks. Diffusing 2 drops in the room while they sleep with help as well.
- Oregano & Melaleuca – mix 2 drops of each with 1 TBSP of fractioned coconut oil and mix. Apply 1 small dab to the bottoms of the feet and spine every two hours. These oils will help starve the virus of oxygen and stop replication. They are also effective at fighting bacterial and fungal infections.
It is best to avoid Tylenol and Advil. Certainly parents should not reach for drugs at the first sign of fever. Homeopathic medicines usually accomplish the same functions without any risks of side effects.
Here are some cautions about fever-reducing drugs. They do carry some potential risks.
It is potentially toxic to the liver. Because babies have relatively underdeveloped livers, they are at least three times more susceptible to the adverse effects of drugs like tylenol.
It also seems that decreasing a fever with Tylenol actually increases the length of the virus.
Reducing fevers with Tylenol in the first year if life also increases the risk for allergies, eczema and asthma later in childhood according to a study in the British medical journal.
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
This choice also has some risks. Although it is a better choice than Tylenol for pain relief, Ibuprofen can cause a relatively rare reaction called Stevens Johnson Syndrome. This is a serious and sometimes fatal skin disease that occurs as an allergic drug reaction to ibuprofen and other medications. This disease begins with flu like symptoms and progresses to inflammation of mucous membranes and blistering eruptions on the skin. I saw a case of this in a small infant given antibiotics and is was horrifying.
Aspirin should never be given to children with fevers. Aspirin given during a viral illness can cause Reye’s Syndrome, severe liver dysfunction, and brain swelling. Just do not keep aspirin at home.
Sum It All Up
Fevers are a healthy response to invasion by pathogens, and it is best to not suppress them with drugs. For most fevers, watchful waiting using home remedies is an appropriate first response, with the idea of consulting your baby’s medical provider if a fever persist.