For a parent, having a child with a fever can be scary and stressful. Meanwhile, some adults ignore their fever symptoms or fail to get treatment in a timely fashion. One problem in this situation is when people rely on advice that’s been passed on for years, but isn’t necessarily accurate. In this article, we’ll explore the many myths relating to fevers in both children and adults so that individuals can make the best decisions when someone is sick.
Myth: You should try to “sweat” out a fever to recover faster.
This is one of the most common fever myths and, unfortunately, it’s misguided. Instead of bundling up in blankets and heavy clothes to encourage sweating, you should be dressed in very light clothing when you have a fever to prevent your body temperature from going any higher.
Myth: You should try to bring a fever down as soon as it appears.
It’s important to remember that a fever isn’t an illness that needs to be cured. Instead, it’s actually a response to something else going on in the body, and it may be better to leave it alone as long as there are no other symptoms. When the body has a fever, it slows down the rate at which bacteria and viruses reproduce and boost white blood cell counts. Research has backed up this idea that leaving a fever alone (when no other symptoms are present) can help speed up recovery since it’s allowing the body to fight off sickness naturally. However, you can still ease the discomfort of a fever by taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen in the meantime.
Myth: Anything above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is a fever.
Doctors assert that 98.6 degrees isn’t the normal body temperature – instead, it’s actually the average body temperature. People can have slightly lower or higher normal body temperatures (children are generally higher, seniors are generally lower), and on top of that, a healthy person’s temperature can vary by a full degree over the course of the day (it tends to be highest in the evening). Fevers start at about 100-102 degrees, and even that is a low-grade fever.
Myth: Parents can tell if their child has a fever just by touching them.
The old method of using the back of your hand pressed to a child’s forehead is no way to tell whether a kid has a fever or not. Children are naturally warmer, plus they can give off heat just from playing, sleeping in a warm bed or even crying. Some parents even misjudge whether their child has a fever when using a thermometer since the type of thermometer needs to be taken into consideration. Parents who suspect a fever should always use a thermometer and follow these guidelines for detecting a fever:
- Armpit thermometers: 99 degrees F or higher
- Oral thermometers: 100 degrees F or higher
- Rectal, ear or temporal artery thermometers: 100.4 degrees F or higher
Myth: 105-degree fevers in children can cause brain damage.
There are rumors that a fever of 104–105 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to brain damage in kids. Fortunately, that’s not true. Higher fevers are just more common in children because their immune systems are less mature so the fever becomes more widespread before the body is able to fight off sickness. There is a point, however, when brain damage does become a possibility, and that’s at about 107 degrees Fahrenheit. This is extremely rare and usually only occurs with specific disorders or conditions, like a brain disorder or heat stroke.
Myth: Ice baths are a good way to lower a fever.
There are a couple problems with using ice baths to lower fevers. First, it’s only temporary – the fever will lower while in the bath but then go right back to where it was once the person is out of the tub. Second, it can lower the body temperature too quickly, which can make someone shiver and actually raise their body temperature even higher. It’s better to use lukewarm baths or a washcloth dipped in lukewarm water if you are looking to ease discomfort.
Myth: Febrile seizures are harmful.
Febrile seizures, which are convulsions triggered by a fever in infants or small children, are actually somewhat common and usually quite harmless. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 1 in every 25 children has a febrile seizure. The vast majority of these seizures are short and harmless. Parents should make sure the child is in a safe place where they can’t fall or injure themselves (like on the floor or ground). The child should not be restrained while having the seizure. It’s also helpful to place the child on their side or stomach to prevent choking. Take the child to see a doctor after the seizure to rule out any serious underlying causes for the episode.
The exceptions in this case are when any child under 3 months of age has a fever of 100.4 or more or if a person also has an underlying condition, like heart problems. These individuals should always seek medical attention if they have a fever, even if there are no other symptoms.
The best way to treat a fever is by getting lots of rest, plenty of fluids and taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage discomfort. If you or your child is displaying other unpleasant symptoms (particularly rashes, irritability or altered mental status), seek medical attention for your illness. Otherwise, let the fever run its course and make yourself as comfortable as possible in the meantime.