I Like Math Just About As Much As The Next Mom
Counting baby toes, pennies and the number of times Micah says “sooopooon” (spoon) in a day – all good stuff! But when it comes to my kids health math rarely factors in. Why? I watch them, not the numbers. This is especially true with fevers.
I’m not alone, either. According to Dr. Hannah Chow-Johnson – pediatrician at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor of pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine – numbers may not be as significant as we tend to think.
“My most frequent calls are from worried parents who want to know how high is too high of a fever. What many parents don’t realize is that often, fevers are their child’s friend.
. . . . Fevers can actually help your child recover more quickly, especially if he or she is battling a viral illness . . . I often wish thermometers had a gauge that read either ‘fever’ or ‘no fever.’ That would definitely help parents who worry if their child has a fever that’s too high.”
Here’s a video from another pediatrician, Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, which explains more:*
“Seattle Mama Doc” On Fever Phobia
Can I just say that I LOVE these women?? Personally I’d avoid the use of fever reducers if possible – here is one of the many reasons why – but I am still **this** close to sending them a dozen orchids. Regarding when fevers may need the attention of a pediatrician, here’s what Dr. Swanson has to say:
“The main take home is not to treat fever per se, but your child. There is no reason to make a fever disappear if your child is otherwise acting well, playful, and staying hydrated. But do know there are some fevers that do require a visit with the pediatricians. It’s important to seek care when fever persists after 3 days in infants and children, any fever in a baby 3 month old or less, and if fever is over 104 degrees.”
And here’s what else Dr. Chow-Johnson has to say:
- “Fevers are safe. A fever is the body’s way of controlling its immune response. Your child’s body is controlling the temperature and it’s going to fluctuate no matter what you do. Don’t awaken a child from a deep sleep to give medications for the fever. Sleep is more important.
- Take oral temperatures when possible and rectal ones when not. Ear, sticker, pacifier and temporal artery thermometers are not reliable. Stick to a good, old-fashioned digital thermometer for the best accuracy. As far as how frequently a fever needs to be checked, once a day is sufficient.
- There is not a maximum number on the thermometer that means go to the emergency room, unless your child stops drinking, urinating or responding well. But if children are doing all three, parents can monitor them from home.
- Your goal should be your child’s comfort, not reducing the fever. Be generous with fluids, ice chips and popsicles. Dress children in light clothing and give tepid baths to help cool them down. Don’t use rubbing alcohol as this can be absorbed into the skin. Give fever reducers only if your child feels uncomfortable, not solely to reduce the temperature. And don’t alternate fever-reducing medications, as this could lead to overdosing or excessive medication that your child doesn’t need.
There are times you should seek medical attention when your child has a fever such as:
- A child who is less than 8 weeks old and has a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher should be seen by a physician immediately
- A child who is undergoing chemotherapy or has a compromised immune system
- If there is no clear source for the child’s fever (no cough, runny nose or known pain) and the fever has lasted for 2-3 days
- If a fever lasts for more than 5 days, see a physician, even if your child looks well.”
Loyola Medicine: That Fever Might Be Your Child’s Friend (emphasis mine)
Ahhh, I’m swooning! And the best part is she’s not alone: Dr. Natasha Burgert says pretty much the exact same thing.
“There is no ‘number’ on a thermometer that requires a trip to the Emergency Department. Nope, not even 104F degrees. With very specific exceptions, kids do not have to maintain a “normal” temperature during times of illness.” (Fever: 5 Facts You Should Know)
What About Febrile Seizures?
One of the most common objections to letting a child ride out a fever seems to be concern over febrile seizures. Here are two things worth considering when weighing that concern:
1. Febrile seizures are not considered harmful. According to the Royal Children’s Hospital In Melbourne, “Most children with fever suffer only minor discomfort, however 1 in 30 will have a febrile convulsion at one time or another. This usually happens between the ages of 6 months and 6 years. Febrile convulsions are not harmful to your child and do not cause brain damage. They are, however, quite upsetting to parents to witness.
Most children with febrile convulsions only ever have one fit. Some children will have one or more seizures, usually during illnesses which cause a fever. There is no increased risk of epilepsy in children who have febrile convulsions.”
2. Giving fever reducers may actually induce a febrile seizure. Febrile seizures are caused by a rapid change in body temperature in either direction. In certain circumstances, fever reducers bring the fever down too quickly and cause a seizure. Also, there’s another way fever reducers may trigger febrile seizures. According to Amy Love, NTP, CGP, CILC, “fever reducers can CAUSE the febrile seizures because they suppress the body’s attempt to create a fever, and so it has to try harder, thus causing a higher fever (that rises faster), called a rebound fever.”
A new report in the journal of Pediatrics signals a huge shift in the way doctors are viewing fevers.
“Parents have been told for generations that a high fever can be dangerous to kids. If you don’t get your child’s fever down, you’ll run the risk of frying brain cells, doctors have warned.
But now the American Academy of Pediatricians has turned that conventional wisdom on its head. A new report published this month in Pediatrics states that not only is there no need to bring down a fever in an otherwise healthy child, but there is a downside to treating a fever – it can prolong the illness that originally sparked the high temperatures.
The only reason to treat a fever is to make a child more comfortable, a co-author of the report said. ‘In a normal child there’s no set temperature at which you’d need to treat a fever,’ said Dr. Janice Sullivan, a professor of pediatrics and pediatric critical care at the University of Louisville. ‘Our recommendation is primarily to treat discomfort associated with an illness rather than the fever itself. So, when children are uncomfortable or crying, then you should treat them with medication.’
Sullivan and her colleagues scrutinized studies on fevers and found that there was no evidence that a fever by itself could harm a child – unless the child was under the age of 3 months or had heart problems. In fact, the researchers determined that bringing fevers down could actually prolong illness. That’s because fevers are one of the body’s lines of defense against viruses, Sullivan explained.
‘Studies done in children with chicken pox, for example, found that children whose fevers weren’t treated had about a day less that they were considered contagious compared to those who were treated,’ she said.”
This reminds me of the American Academy of Pediatrics updated stance on ear infections. New data suggests that they’re often misdiagnosed, and assuming their infections and prescribing antibiotics may actually cause ear infections. (source) The AAP now recommends a “wait and see” approach instead, acknowledging that most of the time it’s best to let small illnesses run their course. Here are some natural remedies many parents have found helpful for earaches. But I’m getting off topic here – back to fevers!
How To Treat A Fever Naturally
So fevers aren’t scary and we should watch the child instead of the thermometer – but what happens when we feel it’s time to try to bring the fever down? I decided to do some research just in case I need it later on. Here’s what I found:
#1 ~ Calcium Lactate
Calcium lactate can be especially helpful in making a sick child/adult more comfortable. When the body fights infection it draws calcium out of the bones to be utilized by white blood cells. The process can make you feel quite achy, so it’s easier just to give the body what it needs without it having to withdraw from “the bank.” Calcium lactate works with the fever to make it more effective, which in turn usually means it’s over more quickly, yay! (Where to buy calcium lactate)
#2 ~ Apple Cider Vinegar
This is an old remedy used by grandmothers and great-grandmothers that is thought to “draw out” the fever – people still swear by it! Soak a couple washcloths in apple cider vinegar and place on forehead and tummy, or add a cup to a warm bath. Some people also soak a cloth in and wrap it around the soles of the patient’s feet – my friend Emily at Holistic Squid says lemons work, too. (Where to buy raw apple cider vinegar)
#3 ~ Egg Whites
Soak a pair of socks in egg whites obtained from healthy, pastured chickens and put them on the patient. For a less messy version, soak paper towels in egg whites and place them on the bottom of the feet, then cover with socks. Replace the socks/paper towels when they dry out. Most people report that they see results from this method very quickly – anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. If egg whites cannot be used due to food sensitivities onions or shredded potato can be used.
#4 ~ Garlic Foot Paste
Blend a enough fresh garlic cloves to make a 1/4 inch paste that will spread across the feet. Blend with a little olive oil or coconut oil and apply. Leave a few spots uncovered so heat can still escape, then wrap in gauze and leave on overnight. (Note: Only do this on yourself so you can feel if it’s too “hot” for your feet. A mama shared with me that this remedy burned her little one’s foot.)
#5 ~ Warm Bath
A cold bath can shock the body into trying to raise the internal thermostat even more, but a warm to extra warm (depending on comfort level) can be helpful, especially when a cup of apple cider vinegar is mixed in.
#6 – Herbal Freezer Pops
Want more info? Treating Fevers Naturally is a very helpful guide written by Meagan Visser, an R.N. with a holistic perspective on fevers. It includes a lot of great info and recipes for keeping kids comfortable during a fever.
So, There You Go!
I’m not against scales, statistics, thermometers and all those other things mama’s are supposed to be fond of. I totally use scales to make soap, statistics to analyze the likelihood that Daddypotamus will make up for the fact that he will be traveling on our anniversary (sources say YES!). And thermometers . . . oh how I love them to make marshmallows! And sometimes I use them on my kids, too.
If by chance that thermometer starts setting off alarm bells for me, you can bet my house will be stinking like a garlic omelette with vinegar on the side!
Have you ever used a natural remedy to reduce a fever? How did it work for you?
*In the original publication of this post I attributed Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson’s video statements to Dr. Chow-Johnson. I stand corrected
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