Fever: Our Body’s Natural Defense Mechanism

Once upon I time I remember the well practiced art of warming a thermometer, sticking it under my tongue, and attempting to fake a fever, as I had so cleverly seen done on so many of my favorite TV shows. As you’ve probably guessed, this hardly ever worked. Although there were the rare occasions when my mom played along and allowed me to spend the day home with her, I’m pretty sure she was on to my act.

Today, having a fever and receiving treatment for it is somewhat controversial. The question lies in whether or not a fever actually needs treatment. A fever is our body’s way of mounting an immune response to an invading pathogen. We reset our internal temperature to create a less hospitable environment for pathogens to grow. When an anti-pyretic is given, the body temperature drops, and usually to a level suitable for pathogens to multiply.

Amongst parents, there is a worry that a fever can be dangerous enough to cause brain damage or death, and this view has persisted over the last 20 years. A fever is one of the most common reasons a parent will seek medical attention for a child. What we must remember is that what might be considered a ‘normal’ temperature for one child may not be the same for another. Fever and temperature in children should be regarded on a case-by-case basis, taking history into consideration. It is also important to remember that temperature fluctuates throughout the day. Most fevers in children spike around midnight, which follows the body’s natural pattern of elevating body temperature into the late afternoon and evening.

Furthermore, the dosing of over the counter fever medication for children is often confusing to parents. A study found that the instructions on many OTC medications were not clear, leaving parents confused about what the correct dosage might be. A dose too small would be ineffective, while a dose too large could be toxic.

There are conditions under which a high fever should be managed with an anti-pyretic medication, especially in infants younger than 3 months, as this can be an indicator of a serious bacterial infection. According to an article published in The New York Times by Dr. Perri Klass, MD, “in general, in older children who do not look very distressed, fever is positive evidence of an active immune system, revved up and helping an array of immunological processes work more effectively.”

From an alternative medicine perspective, I ask, why fight Mother Nature? The body has an innate sense of what needs to be done in order to heal itself. A fever is a mechanism of healing and process mounted as a defense. By using medications to suppress a fever, especially in a child, we are preventing the development of immunity and risking the possible complications that can arise from incorrect dosing. In my opinion, the mounting of an immune response, onset of a fever, and fighting of a pathogen leads to longer-term immunity and health. By suppressing a fever, we’re suppressing our inherent ability to heal from within.

References:
Pediatrics, The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics
New York Times
Journal of the American Medical Association

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