A lot of people tend to respond to a high temperature with instinctive panic. This is entirely understandable. We all know that sometimes a fever can be a sign of a serious underlying infection or illness. However, within the medical community, there is an old adage that is taught to over-enthusiastic medical students eager to test their diagnostic acumen - “The rare conditions are rarer than you think and the common conditions are more common than you think” - This can be a very useful thing to bear in mind even if you are not a doctor. 9 times out of 10, a fever is completely harmless and isn’t indicative of anything serious.
When infiltrated by an infective agent like (eg. bacteria, viruses), your body mounts an immune response to fight against the invading organism. The temperature “set-point” of the body is increased so as to make it harder for the microbes to proliferate and also to jumpstart production of antibodies which combat the invading pathogens.
So, unless you are running a high temperature (i.e. 39 °C or 102 °F) and it seems to persist despite attempts to break the fever, you probably don’t need to rush to your doctor’s office to get treatment for your fever. However, it is important to note that in the case of infants or toddlers, it is always better to be safe and seek out a medical opinion.
So, we’ve established that a fever is part of a healthy body’s response to infection. So then, you might wonder - why treat a fever at all? It is certainly the case that fevers can be beneficial in many ways but they are definitely taxing for the system. Metabolically, they place a huge strain that manifests as a significant drop in energy levels. The body has to expend a lot of energy in order to maintain its temperature at a higher level than usual. Moreover, while the increased temperature setting might be conducive to fighting off infections, it does impede various physiological processes causing fatigue and malaise.
Each fever is a different beast - you might feel thoroughly comfortable and energetic with a high fever. Equally, you might find yourself drained by a mild fever that barely touches 37.8 °C [100.℉]. The effects that fever has varies from individual to individual- some people experience symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches etc quite commonly with fevers while others don’t. However, as a rule, most people feel exhausted and listless during a fever and need some form of external assistance in order to get back to normal.
Therefore, it stands to reason that fevers need to be managed and can’t be left untouched. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should dash off to the hospital each time you have a fever.
In the following section, we’ve listed some simple remedies that have been proven to be effective in treating fevers.
Fever causes dehydration, because of increased sweating and loss of electrolytes. As we all know, over 60% of the human body is water. Water is an absolutely vital component for many of the body’s metabolic processes. Hydrating yourself adequately is one of the easiest steps you can take against a fever. Taking in enough fluid is probably the best thing you can do for your body during a fever.
Drinking plenty of water is a great idea, even in the best of times. However, during a fever, you might not find plain water very palatable. Not to mention the fact that plain water won’t do much to address the issue of replenishing lost electrolytes. So, you could try hydrating yourself with electrolyte solutions, homemade ORS (salt, water and sugar) or fruit juices.
Herbal infusions and teas can be a very simple but effective remedy for fevers. Drinking ginger tea can help you recover faster from small infections. Ginger has been recognised for its anti-bacterial properties, for centuries. Drinking hot ginger tea, in addition to being soothing, induces sweating, which is good for the body to flush out toxins. It also has anti-microbial properties that assist your body in combating germs.
Echinacea is another herb that is renowned for its immunity-boosting properties. Echinacea has been used in folk medicine for a long time to treat fevers and colds. Now, western science has started acknowledging echinacea as an effective remedy against minor colds and flu-like symptoms (including fever). A placebo-controlled, double-blind study showed that consumption of echinacea tea at the onset of cold or flu-like symptoms contributed to faster recovery from the illness, compared to a placebo.
However, do NOTE that Echinacea is NOT recommended to be given to children under the age of 12, pregnant women or lactating mothers.
Fevers are very metabolically expensive. It takes a lot of energy for the body to maintain an increased body temperature. This is why people tend to appear tired and listless when their temperature increases by even a couple of degrees. Therefore, rest is an essential part of recovering from a fever.
Without any deliberateness on your part, during a fever, you will find yourself wanting to spend more time than usual, sleeping. This is absolutely normal. This is your body’s way of signaling to you that it would like to reserve its energy budget to fighting off the current infection and getting you back to good health. It is therefore imperative that you listen to your body and get as much sleep as possible, in order to recover faster. While not sleeping, it is definitely advisable to not involve in much activity and spend as much time as possible, in a restful state. If you are the kind of person that gets bored too easily, this might be the time to kick back and get through that book you’ve been meaning to read for a while now.
This might sound counter-intuitive to many but believe it or not, eating spicy foods containing chilli peppers could help you recover faster from fevers and colds. As discussed earlier, sweating is highly desirable during a fever. Eating spicy foods makes you sweat and also improves your blood circulation. This is really helpful during a fever.
Moreover, a recent study proves an age-old piece of folk wisdom regarding hot peppers -the study shows that Capsaicin, which is the active ingredient in chilli peppers that gives them their kick, shows significant anti-bacterial activity. The study tested the compound against virulent strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (streptococci).
When your body temperature is too high for your comfort, the most intuitive thing to do also happens to be very effective. During a fever, you should make sure you wear clothing that is loose and light. It is important to ensure that your room is not too hot. It is advisable to keep your windows open (unless it’s winter) to make sure there is enough air circulation in your room. Although there might be a temptation to cocoon yourself in a thick blanket, it would better serve you not to do so, unless you have severe chills.
Immersing yourself in lukewarm baths or having lukewarm sponge baths can help reduce your fever. Water has a high specific heat capacity of 4.18 J/g° C. This means that it takes 4.2 Joules (that’s a lot!) of heat to increase the temperature of one gram of water by 1°C. Thanks to this property, during a tepid bath, large quantities of heat energy are transferred to the water from your body, thereby reducing your fever. However, if you begin to shiver, you should immediately exit the bath and dry yourself because shivering actually causes your body temperature to increase.
Please do note that using ice-cold baths, ice cubes or sponging with rubbing alcohol, to break a fever are categorically contraindicated. Although these methods used to be recommended in the past, we now understand that they actually cause more harm than good. Plunging in cold water actually sends blood screaming to your internal organs, and therefore, results in your core temperature increasing rather than decreasing. Again, Do NOT sponge with rubbing alcohol or use ice-cold water in your baths.