What is a fever?
A fever is a short-term increase in body temperature that is caused as a result of an illness. It is one part of an overall response from the immune system of the body. Having a fever indicates that something is not normal with the body.
What are the associated symptoms of fever?
While a slight fever may hit a healthy adult very hard, a baby can be quite comfortable even with a high temperature. The reverse of these scenarios can also occur. Therefore, a fever can be treated depending upon its intensity and the overall symptoms. The common symptoms accompanying fever are :
- Chills and shivering
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- General weakness
- Running nose
- Sore throat
If a fever is accompanied by a rash, then people should consult with the doctor immediately so that the actual cause of the rash and fever is determined. Immediate medical attention should also be sought if the temperature of the body exceeds 103 F (39.4 C) and the person is experiencing symptoms like confusion, convulsions or hallucinations. Symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, nausea, and vomiting can quickly be resolved by seeking medical attention.
When to check the temperature?
To check the body’s temperature, a person can choose from several thermometers, including ear, forehead, rectal, and ear thermometers.
The oral and rectal thermometers provide the most accurate assessment of core body temperature. Ear or forehead thermometers are convenient but do not provide the most accurate assessment of body temperature.
The doctors generally recommend checking the temperature of infants by using a rectal thermometer.
The reading of the temperature and how it’s taken must be reported to the doctor.
When to consult a doctor?
Most fevers are self-limiting and do not require a doctor’s consultation. Yet there are many instances when a person must consult with a doctor if the patient or their family members are sick.
Here are some of the situations when one must immediately see a doctor.
A fever whose origin is unknown in infants and children is a cause for greater concern than in adults.
Consult with the doctor if the infant is:
- Younger than 3 months and is reporting a rectal temperature of more than 100.4 F (38. C) or higher.
- Between the ages of 3 and 6 months and is reporting a rectal temperature of up to 102 F (38.9 C). They might be inactive, feel uncomfortable, and irritable.
- Between the ages of 6 months and 2 years and has a rectal temperature higher than 102 F (38.9 C) lasting longer than one day. The caregiver of the child can consult the doctor if the infant displays symptoms like cold, cough, and diarrhoea, depending on their severity
There is no reason to worry if a child has a fever and is conscious, making eye contact, responding to facial expressions, physically active, and drinking plenty of fluids.
Consult with a doctor if the child:
- Is irritable and vomiting repeatedly or has a severe stomach ache or headache. Any symptoms which are causing discomfort are also a cause of significant concern
- Has a fever that lasts for more than 3 days in a row
- Maintains poor eye contact and appears listless
A doctor’s guidance is required especially when the child has pre-existing illnesses or problems with the immune system.
Get a doctor’s consultation if the body temperature is 103 F (39.4 C) or higher. If an individual experiences the following symptoms, he/she should seek medical attention immediately:
- Severe headache
- Unusual skin rash, especially if the condition rapidly worsens
- Pain when you bend head forward and a stiff neck
- Unusual sensitivity to bright light
- Mental confusion
- Seizures or convulsions
- chest pain, persistent vomiting, or difficulty in breathing
- Abdominal pain or pain while urinating
What are the causes of fever?
A person gets a fever when an area in the brain called the hypothalamus, also known as the body’s ‘thermostat’ shifts the set point of the normal body temperature upward.. When our immune system responds to a disease, the hypothalamus sets the body temperature higher. This stimulates complex processes that produce more heat and limits heat loss. The shivering an individual experiences is one way the body produces heat. When a person wraps themselves up in a blanket because of the chill, it helps retain body heat.
The normal body temperature of the body varies throughout the day, it’s usually lower in the morning and higher in the late afternoon, and evening. Usually, people consider 98.6 F (37 C) as normal but the body’s temperature may vary by a degree or more, from about 97 F (36.1 C) to 99 F (37.2 C) and still be considered a normal temperature.
The following causes may be the reason for fever or elevated temperature
- A viral infection
- A bacterial infection
- Heat exhaustion
- A malignant tumour
- Certain inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Few medications, such as antibiotics and drugs used to treat high blood pressure or seizures
- Sometimes immunizations such as diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis (DTaP), or pneumococcal vaccine
The cause of the fever cannot also be ascertained sometimes. If the fever lasts for more than three weeks and the doctor is still unable to find the cause after extensive evaluation, the fever is then diagnosed as fever from an unknown origin.
What are the complications arising from fever?
Fever-induced convulsions (febrile seizures) may be experienced in children between the age of 6 months and 5 years, which usually involve loss of consciousness and shaking of limbs on both sides of the body. Although alarming for parents, the vast majority of febrile seizures are benign and cause no lasting effects.
If a seizure occurs:
- Make the child lie down on their side or stomach on the floor
- Displace any sharp objects that are near the child
- Loosen the tight clothing
- Hold the child to prevent any injury
- Make sure that nothing is placed in your child’s mouth and don’t try to stop the seizure
Most seizures stop on their own. A person should take their child to the doctor as soon as possible after the seizure so that the cause of the fever can be determined.
Get emergency medical assistance if a seizure lasts longer than five minutes.
How do we prevent fever?
Fever can be prevented and exposure to other infectious diseases reduced if a person takes proper steps to follow and maintain a hygiene routine. Some of the tips to be kept in mind are:
- Children must be inculcated with the habit of washing their hands frequently, like after they return from playing games, before they have their meals when they use the toilet, and after playing with pets. Parents or caretakers must show children to wash their hands properly by gathering both the front and back of each hand and rinsing it with soap under running water.
- Carry a hand sanitiser at all times. People must avoid touching eyes, mouth, and nose after contact with objects because it provides an opening for certain bacteria and viruses to enter the body.
- Always cover the nose and mouth with a tissue or handkerchief while coughing or sneezing or turning away to prevent the germs from spreading to another person. Parents or caregivers must instruct the children to do the same
- Avoid sharing cups, water bottles, and utensils when sick
What Steps Should A Person Take When He/She Has A Fever?
When people have a fever, they must take the following steps to treat fever:
- The temperature of the person has to be taken, and the symptoms have to be assessed. If the temperature exceeds 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees C), it’s confirmed that the person has a fever.
- They have to stay in bed and rest until the fever recedes.
- They have to be hydrated as they would have lost a lot of water through sweating. Drinking water, tea, soups or juice is a very good idea. If it’s not possible to retain liquids, one can suck on ice chips.
- They must consult the doctor and take over-the-counter medications like paracetamol, acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce the fever. People must also note the proper dosage and frequency and also not use them with other fever-reducing drugs. One should also not give aspirin to a baby or a child without consulting the doctor, and infants under 6 months of age should not be given ibuprofen.
- They should bathe with lukewarm water or use cold compresses to make themselves feel more comfortable. Bathing with freezing water or ice cube baths and rubs can be dangerous and should be avoided.
- If they have any symptoms of concern, irrespective of the readings on the thermometer, a doctor should be consulted.
How is the temperature taken?
People usually have a baseline temperature of 98.6°F (37°C), although it can vary from person to person. It is perfectly normal for a person’s baseline temperature to be higher and lower. Fluctuations in daily temperature are also normal.
A rectal temperature is 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) higher than an oral temperature. An ear (tympanic) temperature is 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) higher than an oral temperature. An armpit (axillary) temperature is usually 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) lower than an oral temperature
Many paediatricians suggest using rectal thermometers for infants and babies. You should consult a doctor to understand which type of thermometer can be used. People should also reveal the kind of thermometer used to record their child’s temperature to the doctor.
A fever whose origin is not known in infants and in children is a cause for greater concern than in adults.
What are the other guidelines?
People with compromised immune systems suffering from diseases like cancer, HIV, and autoimmune diseases should consult a doctor immediately if they catch a fever because it is often caused by an infection that can be resistant and difficult to treat.