Although it might make you feel unwell, a fever is actually a sign that your body is functioning properly, and playing a role in helping fight off infection or illness. Some common reasons people run fevers include being overheated or inflamed. You can also run a fever as a result of an infection. As you're probably well-aware, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has included an elevated temperature as a symptom of COVID-19, making people understandably anxious about running a fever this season.
Meet the Expert
A fever is defined as an elevation in core body temperature. Geary notes that a fever is "technically anything over 100.4 Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius)." She adds that "in reality, everyone's resting temperature is not exactly 98.6 Fahrenheit and everyone responds to an illness with varying degrees of fever. Some people run high and some do not." Current medical convention, therefore, stipulates to break a fever is to see a reduction from 100.5 Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).
Please note that infants and elderly people all require extra special care when it comes to getting rid of a fever. "In infants you never try to break a fever they are at risk for febrile seizures. You treat them appropriately by undressing them, keeping them cool but not cold and giving them Tylenol." says Gary. "Elderly people are similarly vulnerable; they need to be managed very cautiously." The tips ahead are meant for otherwise healthy adults looking to get rid of a fever.
Because health authorities are using an elevated temperature to screen for COVID-19, it is vital that you consult your doctor immediately if you are running a temperature or feel sick; they will recommend you test for the virus. Our expert information is not a substitute for medical care, and you should always consult a doctor if you run a temperature. However, these are remedies to make you more comfortable at home and help get rid of a fever so you can feel like yourself again.
Ahead, two physicians provide expert advice on how to reduce a fever.
Manage Your Temperature Accurately
You're feeling rundown. You might be anxious. You might be scared. Despite these feelings, it's essential that you manage your temperature accurately at home when you're running a fever. You also are the best judge of your body, as you know if you naturally run hot or cold. "That absolute number is not as relevant as whether a person ' feels hot' or not," says Geary.
Having said that, getting an accurate read of your temperature is important in tracking the course of the fever, as you want to see it gradually decrease. So, what type of thermometer gives the most accurate read?
"The infrared is what everyone is using on the forehead or wrist," says Geary. "All of these are only as accurate as the quality of the machine, and are altered by sweat and makeup." The benefit of the infrared thermometer is that it doesn't require skin contact, reducing the spread of infection. As a screening tool, the infrared thermometer makes sense, but Geary notes that infrared thermometers can be "one whole degree lower than an oral temperature."
However, if you're at home and monitoring your temperature yourself, consider taking temperature orally, as this method gives the best, least-invasive read for adults. "Rectal thermometers are the most accurate," says Geary stipulating their use for "infants under six weeks, when an absolute temperature dictates care."
One of the best things you can do for your body when you run a temperature is to stay hydrated. "Drink cold fluids," says Swiner, to "help the body temperature gradually decrease to below 100.5."
According to the Mayo Clinic, dehydration occurs when you lose more fluids than you're taking in. As a result, the body doesn't have enough fluids to help carry out its natural functions. Geary notes that when you run a fever, that's the body's response to fighting infection or inflammation. Replenishing fluids to help the body along will speed up the process as your body resets back to its core temperature.
Take Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDs (Ibuprofen or Naproxen)
Both Swiner and Geary favor taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDs (ibuprofen or naproxen) to reduce a fever. "Never give a child aspirin with a fever, to avoid Reyes disease (liver failure)," advises Swiner. She also discourages the use of aspirin in otherwise healthy adults, because, "complications can occur depending on the cause of the fever."
Read the labels carefully and do not exceed dosages. When using proper dosages, expect your fever to respond to medication by reducing by two to three degrees Fahrenheit within two to three hours. If you don't respond to medication, consult your doctor.
Sweat It Out
Purging the infection, boiling it out, or sweating out a fever may sound like an old wive's tale, but this is a common remedy for good reason. As Geary notes, "many people encourage you to allow your body to have a fever to allow the body's inflammatory response to work." What this means, she explains, is essentially "your body sweats and often shivers as your core resets to 98.6."
As you sweat out a fever, wear cool, breathable fabrics to stay comfortable. The key here is to enable your body to do what it wants to do, not run your temperature up further by overheating.
Please note, our experts do not recommend using the sweat it out method for treating fever in infants or elderly people.
Take a Tepid Bath
In an effort to help the body rest and recover while sweating out a fever, a tepid bath is a helpful remedy advised by our experts. A tepid bath can "encourage the body to sweat out a fever" gently, says Geary. She advises to avoid taking a "very cold bath because this makes you shiver, driving your core temperature up." So ice baths are a total myth when it comes to breaking a fever, and are discouraged.
To administer a tepid bath, fill a tub with water that's slightly cooler than the body's natural temperature, and immerse yourself up to the neck in water. Stay in for as long as you feel comfortable.
Apply a Cold Compress
If you're too tired to run a bath when you have a fever, a tepid or cold compress is a good substitute. While Geary favors a "tepid compress" to the forehead, Swiner suggests an "ice pack to the head or trunk."
Support Your Immune System
As aforementioned, a fever is actually a sign that your body is responding to an outside stressor with deft acuity. To support this function, it's important to boost overall immunity. A 2020 Harvard Medical School study indicates that proper immune support is all about balance. In other words, you don't have to do anything super fancy or complicated to ensure your body is fighting off germs and infections properly. Instead, the study suggests, promote a healthy lifestyle by not smoking, getting sufficient rest, eating a healthy diet, and reducing stress.
In other words, take it easy when you're running a fever. No need to buy every immune boosting supplement on the market. Just rest.
Contact Your Doctor
As a good rule of practice, stay in touch with your doctor when you're running a fever. It's essential to reach out, says Swiner, "if a fever remains elevated or increases despite trying the above measures." She also advises that if you experience any "shaking or seizure-like symptoms," to contact your doctor immediately. Finally, should you experience any "symptoms that cannot be controlled, such as vomiting or diarrhea," make that call, as it's vital "to avoid dehydration" when running a fever.