A fever in your child is never easy to deal with: fevers are associated with discomfort, sleeplessness, and low appetite. It is no wonder that most parents’ initial reaction to a fever is to figure out how to quickly reduce the fever in order to help their child feel more comfortable. But is reducing your child’s fever the best thing to do for their developing immune system?

As a Naturopathic Doctor specializing in Pediatrics and Women’s Health, I am always looking for ways to best support the body’s own healing responses, and I see a fever as a healing response that we don’t necessarily want to suppress. In a normal healthy body, the immune system mounts a fever in response to an infection with a cold or flu virus (or a bacteria). The fever is stimulated as a result of chemicals released by white blood cells, causing the body’s core temperature to rise a few degrees. This rise in temperature changes the internal environment, thereby improving the body’s defense against viruses and bacteria in two important ways:

1. Our immune system becomes much more efficient at a slightly hotter temperature. When our internal temperature rises above 98.6F our white blood cells work faster and are better able to attack and remove viruses and bacteria.
2. Viruses and bacteria replicate at a much slower rate in hotter environments. These organisms love to live in environments at around 98.6F, but if the environment gets a few degrees hotter, they start to struggle. By making it more difficult for viruses and bacteria to multiply, it becomes easier for the body to control and eliminate the infection faster.

A fever is actually the way our bodies respond to an infection. Therefore, if we try to “treat” the fever itself by suppressing it with an anti-pyretic medication such as Acetaminophen or Tylenol, we are actually turning off the immune response. This can result in a cold or flu lingering for a lot longer than it has to and developing into a secondary bacterial infection. I often find that viral infections resolve much more quickly when the immune response is supported with fluid, rest, and warming herbs such as ginger and yarrow.

If and when your child or infant presents with a fever, I always recommend that parents bring them in to be seen by me or their child’s pediatrician so that we can determine the cause of the fever and the severity of their symptoms. Infants under 3 months old should always be evaluated immediately because fevers in this age group can be extremely dangerous. Older babies and toddlers can be seen the next day as long as they are continuing to stay hydrated and maintain relatively normal energy levels. Infants and children with extreme lethargy, dehydration, difficulty breathing, frequent vomiting, or non-responsiveness should be taken to the ER immediately no matter what their age or how high their fever is.

Understanding the cause of the fever is paramount to helping your child recover faster. The cause could be an infection such as a cold or flu, an ear infection, a urinary tract infection, or a gastrointestinal infection. Other common causes of fever in children are vaccinations, teething, or wearing too many layers. Once the cause has been identified using gentle measures to support your child’s healing response is a great alternative to suppressive medications like Tylenol. Naturopathic medicine has great tools for improving the body’s response against infections, improving comfort for infants who are teething, and reducing the negative side effects of vaccinations. Naturopathic remedies for fever management and prevention in children include botanical therapies, nutrients, hydrotherapy, and dietary modifications. For more information about specific therapies for your child, please feel free to call our office at 949-529-0577.