Treating Childhood Fevers Naturally
For many parents discovering that their child has a fever prompts a call to the doctor and immediate action to lower the fever as quickly as possible, often using over the counter fever reducing medication. However, is your child’s fever really a cause for concern? Is lowering it the best choice? A fever is your body’s natural response to infection or illness and, believe it or not, it is actually your child’s friend. A fever is a sign that the body’s immune system is working at its best. Depending on the circumstances, lowering the fever could not only be unnecessary, it can hamper your child’s recovery process and prolong their illness.
What Causes a Fever?
Before we really dig into ways to treat a fever let’s try to really understand what a fever is. A fever, or a rise in body temperature, is not, by itself, an illness but rather a symptom of an underlying condition. It is defined as a temperature (most accurate when taken rectally) over 100.4 degrees. A fever is almost always a good sign. It means that the body is responding to fight the infection or illness. In most cases it is part of your body’s natural response that should be allowed to continue.
A fever is most commonly caused by a viral or bacterial illness. In rare cases it can be caused by environmental toxins, heat stroke or poisoning. In most cases a fever is caused by a simple infection (most commonly a virus) and it will come down on its own as the body goes through the beneficial healing process.
Seek Medical Care Immediately If:
1.) A child under 3 months has a temperature of 100.4 or above and exhibits any serious symptoms
2.) The fever lasts for more than three consecutive days
3.) The fever is over 104, as this can indicate a more serious infection or a poisoning
4.) There are any symptoms such as confusion, disorientation or non-responsiveness
5.) A child is unable to hold down food for more than a few hours or shows any signs of dehydration
6.) There is any sign of respiratory distress
7.) A child is showing signs of extreme lethargy. Lethargy isn’t just tired or lazy. It is a more severe fatigue where your child doesn’t even want to get up and won’t do anything at all during the day but lay there
When considering your choices for a thermometer, consider these options:
These thermometers can be used in the rectum (rectal), mouth (oral) or armpit (axillary). Armpit temperatures, however, are typically the least accurate of the three. They use electronic heat sensors to record the body’s temperature.
A digital ear thermometer uses an infrared ray to measure the temperature inside the ear canal. Keep in mind that earwax or a small, curved ear canal can interfere with the accuracy of an ear thermometer temperature.
The child sucks on the pacifier until their temperature is recorded. This is one of the least accurate methods of obtaining your child’s true temperature.
An infrared scanner is used to measure the temperature of the temporal artery in the child’s forehead. While this method is a good option, and more accurate then a pacifier thermometer, it still will not give you the more accurate reading of a digital thermometer.
- Carefully read the instructions that come with your thermometer and be sure to clean the tip of the thermometer with rubbing alcohol or soap and water following each use.
- A rectal temperature will give the most accurate reading in children under 3. If you plan to use a digital thermometer to take a rectal temperature consider keeping a separate one on hand for oral use. Label each thermometer, and be sure not to use the same thermometer in both places.
- Never leave your child unattended while taking their temperature!
For children, a temperature of 100-102 degrees (Fahrenheit) is considered a “low grade” fever. A temperature of 102-104 is considered “moderate” and temperatures of 104-106 are considered “high”. Anything over 106 is considered “severe”. It is important to know your child’s temperature so you can determine when to contact your doctor. It is also one of the questions that the doctors office will ask when you call, so it may help to jot it down. However, remember that the temperature on the thermometer is not nearly as important as the way your child is acting.
A Febrile seizure is a convulsion that can occur in young children, most commonly between the ages of 6 months and 6 years, and is caused by a rapid change in body temperature. This febrile convulsion or seizure happens when normal brain activity is disturbed by a fever and usually occurs without warning.
During the seizure your child may:
- Become unaware of their surroundings or unconscious
- Become stiff or floppy
- Make jerking or twitching movements
- Have difficulty breathing
What to I do if your child has a convulsion?
Most seizures will stop within seconds or a couple of minutes without any medical treatment.
- Remain calm
- Note the time the seizure starts and ends if possible
- Stay with your child
- Roll your child onto their side, also known as the recovery position
- Move away from any objects that could cause harm such as furniture with sharp corners
- Place something soft under your child’s head to stop their head from hitting the floor
- Never put anything your child’s mouth
Contact your doctor immediately if:
- It is your child’s first seizure
- The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes
- Your child has sustained a head injury
- Your child’s breathing doesn’t return to normal shortly after the seizure
- You are unsure that your child is safe and recovering normally after the seizure
Although watching your child experience this type of seizure can be very emotional on a parent or caregiver, it is important to remember that febrile seizures are not considered harmful. They do not cause brain damage and it does not indicate that your child will have epilepsy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics on Fevers:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes that fever is not a disease, but a sign that your body is doing what it’s supposed to do to fight infection. They state:
“Fever is not an illness, rather, it is a symptom of sickness and is usually a positive sign that the body is fighting infection.”
They also do not recommend treating your child with fever reducing drugs at first sign of an elevated temperature. As their website states:
“Fevers generally do not need to be treated with medication unless your child is uncomfortable or has a history of febrile convulsions. The fever may be important in helping your child fight the infection.
Even higher temperatures are not in themselves dangerous or significant unless your child has a history of seizures or a chronic disease. Even if your child has a history of a fever-related convulsion and you treat the fever with medication, they may still have this kind of seizure … If he is eating and sleeping well and has periods of playfulness, he probably doesn’t need any treatment.”
Fever Reducing Medication:
Tylenol and Advil (the two medications most often given to children to reduce fever) both have side effects that can cause liver failure in adults and children, especially when given regularly. The body sees medication as a foreign substance which it must metabolize and filter. This takes energy the body could be using to fight the illness.
In many cases, lowering a fever is not only unnecessary, it could actually hamper your child’s recovery process, prolonging the illness instead of resolving it more quickly. The use of fever reducing medications also masks your child’s symptoms. This may lead to premature return to normal activities, when the body could still benefit from extra rest.
Natural ways to treat fevers:
Giving your child a lukewarm bath can help to soothe them while bringing down their external temperature enough to soothe their symptoms. Stick to a bath at least lukewarm or warm and add epson salt and essential lavender oil to soother their body. You could also give a warm bath with 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar to help draw down the fever.
When fighting an illness calcium is drawn from your bones by white blood cells to assist in fighting infection. If you consume extra calcium lactate while fighting infection it allows your body to draw from the supplement instead of the bones, along with reducing the aches and pains associated with the fever. It will also help to make the fever more effective.
Since many diseases begin in the gut providing probiotics will not only improve gut health but will also aid in supporting the immune system. This can be especially helpful if your child is suffer a stomach related illness, or has any symptoms of stomach upset. Be sure to use a good quality probiotic for the best results.
Garden of Life Raw Probiotics for kids support your child’s immune system as well as their digestive system. This high quality probiotic is a designed to suit the needs of children three months and older It is raw, gluten free, contains no soy allergens, or fillers.
Help boost your child’s immune function with elderberry syrup. Antioxidants called flavonoids — which are contained in the extract — can help to stimulate the immune system. Also, other compounds in elderberry, called anthocyanins, have an anti-inflammatory effect. This can have a positive effect on aches, pains, and fever. Elderberry syrup will produce the best results when taken from the very onset of the illness.
Nature’s Way Sambucus Elderberry Syrup for Kids is formulated specifically for children. Its high potency formula contains black elderberry extract which is proven to be “bioavailable” and active within your child’s body for optimal effectiveness. Use this syrup as a winter remedy or at the onset of an illness for optimal effectiveness.
Provide tons of fluid
When your child is running a fever the high temperature will deplete important water from their cells. This makes it crucial to provide tons of fluid. When sweating profusely, vomiting or experiencing diarrhea, children can experience abnormal fluid loss. This can lead to dangerous levels of dehydration.
Dehydration can worsen your symptoms and level of discomfort. When the body temperature goes up it uses more fluid. Encouraging drinking water during a fever will keep them hydrated while promoting healthy bowel functioning, preventing dry skin, and assisting in washing the virus or bacteria out of the body.
- Pull back their lower lip and see how moist the mouth is. If it is slick and wet that is a good sign. If it’s very gummy and dry alert the doctor.
- Monitor wet diapers and bathroom breaks. If your baby/child is urinating infrequently and the urine is a dark yellow, that is dehydration.
- A lack of tears when child is clearly crying should warrant a call and trip to the doctor.
Coconut oil has many wonderful benefits and aiding and boosting the immune system is one of them. It is high in lauric acid and is thought to dissolve the lipid coating around some viruses. Dissolving the lipid coating makes them more susceptible to attack by the immune system. Its antiviral and antibacterial properties make it a great way to assist your child’s body in fighting off infection. It is great when mixed in with their food or added to a smoothie!
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has a ton of beneficial uses as a home remedy and healing tonic. Its acid helps to draw the heat out of your body. You can soak wash cloths in apple cider vinegar and apply them to child’s forehead, stomach or feet.
Soak towels or cloths in warm lemon juice and place them on feet. Covering them with socks soaked in warm lemon juice and water can calm a child and keep their feet warm. The lemons help navigate the fever and inflammation, pulling it away from the head, since lemons thrive in a warm environment.
The most important thing during a fever is to help your child stay hydrated, rested, and comfortable. As hard as it is to watch your child be uncomfortable, it is important to remember that in most cases a fever is a great sign that their immune system is functioning optimally.
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Jessica is a holistic health counselor and work from home mom living in the middle of nowhere USA with her sweet little boy! She suffers from a serious case of compulsive globe-trotting and is always counting the days until her next move or adventure. You can often find her trying to get in her exercise in by lunging through the park while chasing after her very energetic little boy! She is constantly fueled and energized by her love for healthy eating and occasionally copious amounts of caffeine.