Hot topics: Fever
In the next few posts I plan to explore some common home health problems and what to do at home, a kind of self-care flow-sheet if you will. The idea is to cover some emergent topics (fever, falls, sudden pains, shortness of breath) as well as ongoing problems such as sprains and strains, poor sleep, changes in bowel habits, that plague us all from time to time. Suggestions welcome.
We start with Fever.
What is a fever? Literally it is an oral temperature of 100.4F or greater. [You can take an oral temp in adults and kids older than four by putting a thermometer under the tongue for 3 minutes—at least 10 minutes after hot or cold beverages. Younger kids may bite and break the thermometer, instead use an under-arm temperature and add a degree. Infants can have rectal temperatures. ]
Fever is one of the body’s defenses against infection—higher temperatures slow down the spread of disease. Because of that lower temps (under 102F) do not have to be treated with fever-reducing medicines such as Tylenol or ibuprofen unless you are uncomfortable. Do use fever-reducing medicines if the temperature is 104F or greater.
Most important is discerning the cause of the fever. Colds or flu are common causes—and don’t respond to antibiotics because they are caused by viruses. Bacteria, such as those that cause strep throat do respond to antibiotics and should be treated. Other bacterial diseases, to name a few, are cat-scratch fever, cholera, diphtheria, epiglottitis, Lyme disease, pertussis (whooping cough), meningitis, food poisoning and some pneumonias.
Lower fevers (under 102) with mild sore throat, dry cough or HA often fall under the heading of cold or flu; if vomiting or diarrhea accompanies, it may be a viral gastroenteritis. These self-limited illnesses can be handled at home with fluids and over the counter medicines to reduce symptoms until they clear in about a week. Prolonged illness (more than 10 days), or symptoms that worsen after a few days should prompt a visit your doctor; a red flag symptom would be neck stiffness, light sensitivity and very severe HA which may be signs of meningitis, a medical emergency.
Moderate fevers (101-103) may be signs of bacterial or more serious illness. Ear pain, may be a sign of an ear infection, many of which are viral, but should be evaluated. Starting a new medicine may be the source of fevers—and prompt you to call your doctor. Red flag symptoms with this temperature are nausea or vomiting may be a severe abdominal condition requiring immediate attention.
Higher temperatures, (greater than 103) usually need attention by medical staff. Depending on concurrent symptoms you could have pneumonia or a lung clot (cough or shortness of breath), a kidney infection (painful urination or back pain) or heat exhaustion or stroke (prolonged exposure to high temperatures.
Fever is your body’s natural response to a challenge to the immune system. Keeping your immune system healthy with proper balanced diet that features vegetables, variety and very few sugars or processed foods will go a long way to preventing illness in the first place. Moderate regular exercise and enough sleep are easy (and free) ways to boost your health too.