Crazyhippiemom’s Weblog

Just an urban hippie with a kid in tow, sharing a little eco-friendly, holistic info with the world.

Your Baby’s Fever Demystified – 12 Mind-Easing Facts About Fever March 7, 2008

All of us, parents and non-parents alike, have been programed into thinking that a fever is a bad thing… something to be avoided at all costs, something to be reduced at its onset.  Not so.  Fever is the body’s defense against disease.  A fever should be welcomed, in fact, we should roll out the red carpet, for with a fever comes the realization that our bodies are fighting the good fight for us.  Cut the pill-popping and doctor calling out, let the fever run its course.  Here are some demystifying facts about fever (from How To Raise A Healthy Child… In Spite Of Your Doctor)

  1.  A temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is not the “normal” temperature for everyone.  The 98.6-degree standard for body temperature is merely a statistical average, and “normal” for most people is higher or lower.  This is particularly true of children who’s temperatures can range from a low of 96.6 degrees to a high of 99.4.  Children’s temperatures can fluctuate significantly throughout the day for various reasons.  You can expect your child’s temperature to be about a degree higher in the late afternoon than it is in the early morning.
  2. Your child’s temperature may rise for a variety of reasons that do not signify illness.  Children’s temperatures may become elevated while digesting a heavy meal.  They may increase because of ovulation in pubertal teenagers.  Sometimes they are a side effect of non-illness related medication prescribed by your doctor.
  3.   The fevers you should be concerned about usually stem from an obvious cause.  Most of the fevers that spell serious trouble are the result of poisoning, or exposure to toxic substances in the environment, and are related to causes that lead to “heat-stroke”.  Temperatures of 107 degrees or more, resulting from these causes, can result in lasting bodily harm.  
  4. Temperature readings will vary depending on how they are taken.  Rectal temperatures in older children are usually about a degree higher than those taken orally, and underarm or axillary temperatures may be about a degree lower.  However, in babies rectal temperatures usually vary only slightly from oral or axillary.  Avoid using a rectal thermometer and spare your child the hazard of a rectal perforation.
  5. Newborn babies are the exception.  Newborn babies may suffer from infections related to obstetrical intervention during the delivery process, prenatal or hereditary conditions, or events that occur shortly after birth.  They may develop scalp abscesses as a result of fetal monitoring prior to delivery or aspiration pneumonia from amniotic fluid forced into the lungs because of overmedication of the mother during labor.  If your newborn has a fever, take him to the doctor.
  6. Overdressing could be the source of the high temperature.  Parents are sometimes overly concerned about keeping their baby warm.  Bundling up your baby could do more harm than good.  Babies are incapable of casting off excess clothing and blankets if the heat becomes oppressive.  If your baby already has a temperature accompanied by chills, and you respond by wrapping him up, you will simply force his temperature to rise even more.  Rule of thumb: Dress your baby in as many layers of clothing as you find comfortable for yourself.
  7. Most fevers are caused by viral and bacterial infections that the body’s own defense mechanisms will overcome without medical help.  The common cold and flu are the most common sources of elevated body temperatures in children of all ages.  They can generate fevers that range all the way up to 105 degrees, but even at that level they are not a legitimate cause for alarm.  The only potential risk is of dehydration, which may result from excessive perspiration, runny nose, vomiting, and diarrhea.  To ensure dehydration doesn’t occur, make sure that your child receives plenty of fluids… perhaps about eight ounces of fluid every hour, preferably liquids that have some nutritional value.  
  8. There is no consistent relationship between the height of a child’s temperature and the severity of a disease. There is a common misconception that the height of body temperature is an indication of the severity of an illness, but no consensus exists among parents or ever among doctors about what “high” is.  Knowing the precise level of your child’s fever will tell you nothing about how sick he is if the fever is produced by a viral or bacterial infection.  The only indications you have as to determining whether the fever is the result of a mild or serious infection is the child’s appearance, behavior, and attitude.  If your child is active, playing and behaving normally, you needn’t worry that his ailment is a matter of serious concern.
  9. Untreated fevers caused by viral and bacterial infections do not rise inexorably and will not exceed 105 degrees.  Only in the case of heatstroke, poisoning, or other externally caused fevers is this bodily mechanism overwhelmed and inoperative.  It is in those cases that temperatures reach and exceed 106 degrees.  
  10. Measures to reduce temperature, such as drugs or sponging, are worse for the child; they are actually counterproductive.  Fever occurs due to a spontaneous release of pyrogens that cause the body temperature to rise.  This is a natural defense mechanism that our bodies employ to fight disease.  The presence of fever tells you that the repair mechanisms of the body have gone into high gear. While reducing you child’s fever may make your child more comfortable, you may interfere with the natural healing process if you do it.  If you simply cannot resist the urge to reduce your child’s fever, sponging is preferable to drugs.
  11. Fevers produced by viral or bacterial infection will not cause brain damage or permanent physical harm.  The fear of fevers in the higher ranges stems from the widespread belief that permanent physical or brain damage may result if you permit your child’s fever to get “too high”.  Because your child’s bodily defenses won’t allow infections to produce fevers of 106 degrees, you need not fear mental or physical damage when his temperature begins to rise.  It is estimated that 95% of childhood fevers don’t even reach 105.
  12. High fevers do not cause convulsions.  They result when the temperature rises at an extremely rapid rate. If you have ever seen a convulsion occur it may be hard to believe that they are rarely serious.  They are also relatively uncommon; only 4% of children experience fever-induced convulsions.  Also, there is no evidence that those who have experienced them have suffered any serious side effects as a result.  A study of 1,706 children who had suffered febrile convulsions reported not a single death and no motor defects in the children.  If your child experiences a fever-induced convulsion – place your child on his side so he won’t choke on his own saliva; next, keep him from striking his head against any hard or sharp object while he is thrashing around; make sure he doesn’t have a breathing obstruction and place some soft but firm object between his teeth to keep him from biting his tongue.  You may call the doctor but there truly is no need.
Fevers are a common symptom in children and are not an indication of serious illness unless associated with major changes in appearance and behavior or other major symptoms such as respiratory difficulty or loss of consciousness.  The height of fever is not a measure of the severity of an illness.  Infection-induced fevers will not reach levels that can cause permanent damage to your child.  Fevers do not usually require medical attention or drug “intervention”.  They are the body’s natural defense against infection and should be allowed to run their course without medication or other treatment intended to bring them down.

2 Responses to “Your Baby’s Fever Demystified – 12 Mind-Easing Facts About Fever”

  1. matt Says:

    Great post, and alot of great points in there. As parents, I think we’re conditioned to be more scared by fevers than a cold. That makes sense. But I agree with you: logic dictates that, within a reasonable range and without complimentary symptoms, fevers may be better treated by allowing the course to be run. We’re really cautious about medicating before we need to with our boys. Again, great post – definitely one to bookmark for later reference.

  2. Hey, nice tips. Perhaps I’ll buy a bottle of beer to the person from that chat who told me to visit your blog 🙂

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