Understanding Children’s Fevers

A Natural Response to Illness

By Max Lancaster.

Winter has arrived, which means cold and flu season is here and parents are doing everything they can to ensure their children don’t get sick.

Despite our best efforts, illness is an unfortunate reality of life and is often accompanied by a fear-invoking fever. At some point, every parent will have his or her turn to worry over that triple-digit number on the thermometer. Remember, while fevers are certainly unpleasant, they are also a signal that your child’s immune system is working just fine.

What Causes a Fever?

Pediatric Naturopathic Physician, Dr. Kiera Smialek of www.naturalkiddoc.com, has spent her entire career treating children and has seen her fair share of parents worried about their child’s spiking temperature. She says parents who have a basic understanding of fevers will have more peace of mind and be in a better position to comfort their child through an uncomfortable time, so education is important.

When Dr. Smialek consults parents about a child’s fever she makes sure to take time to help them understand the body’s natural system for fighting illness. “One of the first things I tell a concerned parent when their child has a fever is that this is a natural indication that their immune system is healthy,” she said. “Children frequently get fevers and even high fevers are not uncommon. A fever is a symptom of the illness and indicates the body is fighting the infection.”

Dr. Smialek says when it comes to a fever, the temperature itself is secondary to how the child is reacting to the fever. “Typically, I inform the parent that when we are looking at the fever, we are not really looking at the number because what really matters is how the child is doing,” Dr. Smialek said. “A child that is still hydrating and playing worries me less than a lethargic child.”

Is My Child’s Fever Normal?

A normal fever ranges from 100 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit — anything higher is cause for a trip to the doctor. A child with a fever that lasts more than 72 hours, or a newborn to three-month-old with any fever should be seen by a pediatrician, according to Dr. Smialek.

Children with normal fevers require a mostly hands-off approach. The parents must simply keep track of their child’s demeanor and check their temperature every few hours. “Checking their temperature frequently and making sure your child is staying hydrated is what is most important,” Dr. Smialek said. “When your body temperature gets high you burn a lot of energy, making it very easy to dehydrate. You need to make sure that your child is drinking fluids so their body can deal with the rest.”

Dr. Smialek also said properly taking your child’s temperature is important. “I really take the time to talk about the proper way to take a child’s temperature because a lot of parents get this wrong,” she said. The most accurate way to take a child’s temperature is with an ear thermometer placed deep in the ear canal or an oral thermometer placed at the back of the mouth, underneath the tongue. Dr. Smialek said parents should avoid taking temperatures under the armpit since that area tends to give inaccurate readings. Infants under six months should have their temperature taken rectally.

The Natural Path

Dr. Smialek said that there is not a specific natural product that replaces Tylenol or Ibuprofen, but that fevers can reduce naturally  with “tepid water baths, cool wash clothes and staying hydrated.” She recommends avoiding the use of Tylenol or Ibuprofen to break a child’s fever, unless it is absolutely necessary. “Let the fever do its job and fight the infection. Breaking the fever with Tylenol or Ibuprofen will only suppress the fever and not kill the infection,” she said. “I recommend a fever reducer if the child is lethargic or absolutely miserable.” Most fevers will last only one to three days, but if your child’s fever is lingering, it is important to contact your doctor to have your child evaluated.

Illness is an unavoidable part of childhood, but there are things you can do to help your child’s body fight off germs and stay healthier. During cold and flu season, Dr. Smialek recommends giving your child a probiotic, Vitamin D, and Vitamin C to help boost the immune system. Elderberry is also known to prevent cold and flu illnesses, due to its strong anti-viral properties. A healthy diet, including a variety of fruits and vegetables with minimal dairy and sugar is also beneficial. Natural remedies will help boost your immune system, but kids still get sick sometimes and Dr. Smialek reassures parents that fevers will happen and your child will get through them.

“Fevers are the body’s normal reaction to fighting harmful bacteria or viruses,” she said. “At the end of the day, your child’s immune system is doing its job and they will get better.”

Max Lancaster is a freelance writer based in Phoenix. He graduated from the University of Arizona School of Journalism in 2015.

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