With school just getting started, and the increased incidence of illness in the cooler months, I’ve gotten several emails and Facebook questions lately about natural ways to bring down a fever, especially in young children. My personal solution is somewhat unconventional, but it has helped my family fight illness more quickly and usually prevent recurring infection.[Note: I am not a doctor, nurse or medical professional and do not play one on the internet. Always check with a doctor or medical professional if a medical need arises.]
Here’s what we do to treat a fever naturally:
What Causes a Fever?
Fever is a natural response to infection or illness. In fact, a fever is a good sign as it means that the body is responding to fight the infection. It is part of a natural bodily response that in most cases should be allowed to continue.
Fever can be caused by bacterial or viral illness, or in rare cases by poisoning, heat stroke, environmental toxins, or a malfunctioning hypothalamus. For the majority of us, fever is caused by a simple infection (most often a virus) and will fade on its own as the body heals. There are a few exceptions, but more on that later …
Is a Fever Dangerous?
Despite what seems like popular belief, in most cases, a fever less than 103 will not cause brain damage, and a fever stemming from an infection will usually not go above this unless other factors (hot environment, etc.) are present.
In many cases, those who suffer brain damage or other problems from an illness suffer this from the illness itself, not the fever. Even Medicine Plus, as service of the Natural Institutes of Health and U.S. Library of Natural Medicine states that a fever less than 107 is unlikely to cause brain damage or other problems unless accompanied by more serious symptoms (though I don’t like letting them go this high and have never had a child with a fever anywhere near this high).
Even fevers high enough to cause febrile seizures do not indicate a severe problem in themselves. From this article: “However, most febrile seizures are over quickly, do not mean your child has epilepsy, and do not cause any permanent harm.” I highly recommend the book How to Raise a Healthy Child In Spite of Your Doctor for a more detailed explanation about the benefits of a fever and why reducing it can be harmful.
If one of my family members has a fever less than 103-104 degrees that I know is not the result of poisoning, severe bacterial infection, heat stroke, or toxins, I personally find it best to wait it out, monitor symptoms and take measures to make the person more comfortable. This is my personal preference in this situation, and while I’ve never found temperatures at this point or lower to be harmful, it is always important to do your own research and talk to a medical professional if you feel the situation warrants it. In my experience, the majority of fevers from illness hover in the 101-103 range and are an effective part of the body’s response to illness.
Why Reducing A Fever Can Be Counterproductive
There are several reasons it is better not to reduce a fever. Since fever is part of the body’s natural way of fighting illness or infection, reducing the fever can actually make the illness last longer, as it lets the cause of the illness live for a longer time.
Additionally, most conventional methods of lowering a fever can do more harm than good. Tylenol and Advil (the two medications most often given to children to reduce fever) both have side effects or even cause organ damage. Specifically, Tylenol can hurt the liver and Advil can hurt the kidneys or cause bleeding in the digestive tract, especially when given regularly.
Also, medications are also foreign substances in the body, which must be metabolized and filtered by the body. This takes energy the body could be using to fight the illness.
While a fever can be uncomfortable, it is possible to comfort the person who is ill without reducing the fever. Often, the medications that reduce fever also get rid of body aches or uncomfortable symptoms, so the two are thought to go hand in hand. While certainly, medical intervention and medicine are absolutely warranted at times, they aren’t my first line of defense for most fevers.
When Medical Care Is Critical
In the majority of cases, a fever is a natural healthy response that should be allowed to run its course. There are exceptions and in these cases it is important to seek medical care and make sure there is not a more serious problem. While I personally let the majority of illnesses run their course in our home, I don’t hesitate to seek medical help immediately either if the situation warrants it.
The need to talk to get medical advice quickly in cases like this is one of the many reasons why I’ve partnered with this service that matches you with a dedicated online doctor (one that actually knows you and your family). Of course it doesn’t always replace going to a local doctor or even the emergency room, but it is a helpful first step in evaluating a situation.
When to Go to the Doctor
In general, these are the times I seek medical care for a fever, but a parent’s intuition/research and conversation with your own doctor are important for determining when a fever is serious. I seek help when:
- A child under three months has a fever over 100.4 or exhibits any serious symptoms
- Child exhibits a fever over 104 as this can signal a more serious infection or poisoning
- Fever for more than two consecutive days
- The ill person has other symptoms like stiff neck, listlessness, or sensitivity to light
- The person is unable to hold down food for more than a few hours or shows any signs of dehydration
- Person exhibits any sign of respiratory distress (Seek immediate help)
- Person has been exposed to toxins or poisons that may have caused the fever
- My mother’s intuition says there is something more serious going on, even if the child appears fine
Of course I am a mom, not a doctor, and the above are just my own personal guidelines. You will want to come up with your own together with your doctor’s advice.
What I Do Instead
While I don’t use conventional methods of treating illness, I’m also not in favor of letting an ill person suffer any more than is necessary. Fortunately, there are some easy, natural ways to comfort the afflicted without drugs or medicine. For most illnesses, this is my protocol:
- Lots of fluids to ward of dehydration and help the body flush the illness. We stick to water, herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint, or catnip.
- Double doses of Fermented Cod Liver Oil, which seems to greatly reduce the duration of the illness and also gives the ill person important immune boosting nutrients. We use capsules for adults and gel for kids who can’t swallow pills. I also give this daily to all family members to help boost immune function so the body is ready to handle illness more quickly.
- Probiotics– You’ve probably heard the saying “All disease begins in the gut” and I give probiotics to support immune and gut health. We take these all the time, but especially during illness.
- Homemade elderberry syrup to boost immune function and make the ill person more comfortable. Here’s a recipe to make your own much less expensively than store bought options.
- Lots of bone broth and homemade soups to nourish and provide nutrients that aid in healing.
- Small doses of coconut oil mixed in to food or smoothies for its antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- We do warm baths with epsom salts or magnesium and a sprinkle of powdered ginger to help alleviate muscle aches. Peppermint tea also works for head/muscle aches associated with an illness.
- If the person is achy or having trouble resting comfortably, I’ll sometimes give a natural sleep tincture or chamomile tincture to help soothe achy muscles and promote relaxing sleep.
- Feverfew– I don’t generally recommend feverfew for kids without a doctor’s advice, so check with yours, but this herb has natural anti-inflammatory benefits.
TIP: I highly recommend printing out a version of this and keeping in on hand in a cabinet with the remedies in case you become ill. While I am prepared to help a family member who doesn’t feel well, I’m often not the best at remembering to do these things myself sick. This way, my husband can help me remember to do these things when I’m under the weather.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Walker, an internal medicine physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.
What do you do when a family member is sick? Have any natural tips or tricks? Share them below!