Hippocrates once said “Give me a fever and I can cure the child”. Fevers are one of the most common symptoms prompting parents to take their child to a doctor or health care professional of their choice. A fever is necessary and useful in the healing of an acute illness such as a cold or infectious disease. While it should be seen as something positive and encouraged rather than suppressed, most parents are overcome with fear and panic when faced with a feverish child. By understanding that a fever is a symptom rather than a condition or illness in itself, you soon come to realise that it is an ally and not an enemy. Fevers are the first sign that your child’s immune symptom is functioning as it should. By increasing core body temperature, fevers enable the immune system to swing into action, indicating the body’s defences are fighting an infection and consequent temperature fluctuations indicate how the body is coping. Some fevers are a little more sinister and can be recurrent for many years after such illnesses as glandular fever or malaria and should always be treated with the guidance of a health care professional. These are not to be confused with the more simple type fevers we are referring to here.
It is often seen that “sickly” children who endlessly encounter illness after illness, show no significant change in temperature, while more robust children who encounter the odd infection, may experience soaring temperatures, look and feel very ill but at the same time recover more easily and quickly. The healing reaction of the body is sped up by approximately 10% for each degree rise in temperature. Breathing speeds up, indicating an increase in oxygen intake, the heart beats faster to carry the blood around the body more quickly, hormones are released which stimulate the body to fight disease and the body cools down naturally by increasing perspiration. Studies show that fever cripples many heat sensitive viruses. Fevers fight disease by means of a substance called interleukin1 (IL1), which is released from white blood cells when a foreign agent enters the blood. Fever raises the body’s thermostat in the region of the brain called the hypothalamus, by activating prostaglandins. IL1 speeds the production of the immune systems T cells, which enhance killer-cell activity. When temperature rises from 37 degrees to 39 degrees, T cell production increases by much as 20 times Fevers are the body’s first line defence to fight infection thus attempts to control or suppress it artificially with paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen etc. hinder the body’s natural ability to heal itself (by inhibiting prostaglandin activation, especially asprin). Conventional approaches to the treatment of fever include these three drug agents, which are all equally as effective in reducing fever, but paracetamol is considered the safest. Some doctors routinely treat fevers with antibiotics even before they have laboratory evidence of a bacterial infection. This usually proves ineffective as bacteria cause only 3 to 15% of fevers and antibiotics are ineffective in the treatment of viral infections.
The average core body temperature is approximately 37 degrees, but this can easily vary. When faced with an infection, it is quite normal for a child or baby to have a fever of 39.5 degrees or more, in fact most adults and children can run a fever of 40 degrees for several days with no danger. A temperature of 40.5 degrees is serious and cause for concern. When it passes 41 degrees there becomes a risk to life.
So where do you drawn the line and seek help? The most common and yet false fear amongst parents surrounding fever is that it will cause brain damage. Many scientific tests and investigations have failed to confirm this as an adverse affect. The only possible exceptions were in cases of meningitis or encephalitis; however the relationship was uncertain as these conditions cause brain damage independent of fever. Another common and more founded concern is febrile convulsions or seizures. This condition is not epilepsy – although the symptoms can be similar. Febrile convulsions are bought on by a sudden rise in temperature. It is not therefore the height of the temperature that brings on convulsions but rather the rate at which it rises. Drug therapy is usually ineffective in these situations as by the time the fever is recognised the convulsion is in full swing. The first time this happens is understandably terrifying to the parent but it must be understood that children who experience febrile convulsions are no more likely to develop epilepsy than children who have no previous history of them.
Many fevers peak towards night time and drop by morning and recur the subsequent evening. Therefore, a drop in temperature in the morning does not mean the fever has past its peak. It is common for the temperature to rise and fall several times over a few days before returning to normal. During infancy, it is characteristic for there to be a .3 of a degree difference in morning and night time temperature. In full term newborns, the temperature after birth is usually between 37.7 and 38.2 degrees, coming down over the first 24 hours to reach it’s normal state of 36.6 to 37. Sometimes there is a sharp rise on the 3rd or 4th day of life to 38 – 39 degrees. This is known as transitionary or dehydration fever and as its name suggests is related to inadequate fluid intake.
Each individual who has a fever will require and respond to a different Homeopathic medicine, as each person has their own pattern of falling ill and experience different fever symptoms. Some will feel hot with a high fever or feel chilly and shiver; others may experience extreme alternating states of both. Some moan, complain, crave attention, ache and are restless, others are irritable with a desire to be alone, rugged up in bed. Some people are sweaty, red in the face and slightly delirious, while some are pale, cold and clammy. The Homeopathic prescription will be based on these individual, varying symptoms, any accompanying complaints and emotional state.
Keeping up fluids to avoid dehydration is the most important factor to consider when your child has a fever. Signs of dehydration can be difficult to detect in young infants, but they include dryness of the mucous membranes (e.g. dry lips, dry eyes, no tears when crying), dry skin and a sunken fontanelle. Encourage children to drink plenty of water or at least sips of water at frequent intervals. Honey or lemon can be added or dilute fresh juice given if preferred. Breast milk is perfect for nursing infants and children and will probably be all that is wanted anyhow. Older babies or young children may be reluctant to drink (a great observation pointing to some Homeopathic medicines), so sucking on ice cubes, frozen juice or a wet cloth or sponge may be an effective alternative.
Take your child’s temperature every 2 hours during fever. Place a mercury thermometer under the tongue or armpit for five minutes or digital one as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Keep in mind a temperature taken under the armpit will read .3 to .5 of degree lower than under the tongue. A strip that can be placed on the forehead should be used as a rough guide only and a hand held to the forehead is basically useless. Digital ear thermometers are the latest, quickest, most accurate and user-friendly devices. Sponging down a child with a fever above 39 degrees is advisable.
Sponging the face and forehead alone can give relief, but the whole body can benefit, especially if the child is hot all over. Expose and sponge one limb at a time until it feels cool to the touch, dry the area and place it back under the covers before going on to the next limb. This can reduce the temperature by up to 1 degree and can be repeated frequently. If the child is not drastically ill, placing them in the bath may be easier. As an added bonus a thirstless child may consume some of the bathwater.
In hot and humid weather, undress babies as they can acquire a fever by simply overheating. Removing clothing itself can be enough to bring the temperature down to normal. Respond to your child’s individual needs – keep a hot feverish child lightly dressed and a chilly feverish child (who shivers and feels cold to the touch) well covered.
Don’t be too concerned if a feverish child does not want to eat. It is common for children with a temperature not to have an appetite, so don’t insist they do so. It is a good sign, as fasting helps the body further eliminate toxins and allow the body’s energy to focus on recovery, rather than digestion. Encourage a hungry child to eat light wholesome meals that are easily digested like vegetable soup, raw or stewed fruit. Always seek help in the following situations.
- Your baby is under six months and has a fever.
- An older child has a fever over 39 degrees and does not respond to home treatment within 24 hours.
- The child’s temperature rises rapidly.
- The baby or child refuses to drink or breastfeed (due to the risk of dehydration).
- If there is a lack of reaction (limpness and exhaustion), which may imply a more serious illness has developed.
- It is also wise to seek professional advice if there is a history of febrile convulsions in your immediate family.
References Brightlight, Elyane T., “Natural Childcare”. Brolga Publishing, Pty. Ltd., Victoria, 1999Castro, M.“Homeopathic Guides – Mother and Baby” Pan Books, London, 1996Santwani, M.T., “Common Ailments of Children and Their Homeopathic Management” B.Jain Publishers, New Delhi, 1994 Smith, L.H.; Walker, L.P.; Hodgson Brown, E. “Nature’s Pharmacy for Children” Thre Rivers Press, New York, 2002
Webb, Dr. Peter., “The Family Encyclopaedia of Homeopathic Remedies” The Book Company, Sydney 1997