A fever is a symptom, not an illness. Typically, a fever is a sign that the body is fighting off an infection by making itself too hot for the bacteria or virus causing the illness.
The average normal body temperature is 98.6°F. Temperatures higher than this indicate a fever.
In this article, we discuss whether a person should reduce a fever and how they can do so.
According to the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), a person does not always need to reduce a fever. Instead, they can see it as a good sign because it shows that the body’s immune system is working and attempting to fight the infection.
According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), a fever helps fight the infection by stimulating the immune system. A rise in temperature can make it more difficult for the virus or bacteria to survive.
However, there are times when a person will need to seek medical help.
The BPHC state that if an infant is under the age of 3 months and has a rectal temperature higher than 100.3°F, a parent or caregiver should call a healthcare professional immediately.
Adults can also experience complications from a high fever. Research shows that a temperature of 40°C (104°F) or higher can cause neurological damage, so a person should seek medical attention if they reach this temperature.
Self-care at home can include:
- getting plenty of rest
- drinking water and juices to stay hydrated
- wearing comfortable, loose clothes
- keeping rooms at a cool, comfortable temperature
Over-the-counter (OTC) fever reducers may help adults feel more comfortable. A person should check the package instructions to ensure that the medication is safe for them to use. Drugs that may relieve symptoms include:
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- ibuprofen (Advil)
- naproxen (Aleve)
Parents and caregivers can use the following practices to help an infant feel more comfortable when they are experiencing a fever:
- dressing them in light, breathable clothing
- giving them plenty of fluids to drink
- keeping the home comfortably cool
- making sure that they get rest
- giving them a sponge bath in lukewarm water
Researchers note that although giving the infant a cool bath can help lower the temperature on the outside of their body, it is not clear whether it can reduce the fever. However, if the bath makes the infant more comfortable, there is no harm in it.
Parents and caregivers can give an infant medication to help reduce a fever. However, they should bear in mind the following advice from the BPHC:
- For infants under 3 months of age, a caregiver should consult a healthcare provider.
- Ibuprofen is not suitable for infants under 6 months of age.
- Aspirin is not safe for infants or children. Experts have linked it with Reye’s syndrome, which is a condition that can cause liver and brain damage.
OTC fever reducers for infants come in the form of a syrup or a suppository. They include ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
Those under 3 months of age
If infants seem particularly fussy or hot and are acting differently, it is a good idea to take their temperature.
If infants under 3 months of age have a rectal temperature higher than 100.3°F, the BPHC recommend calling a doctor immediately, as even a slight fever can indicate illness at that age.
Treatment to reduce a fever in an infant will not address the underlying condition, but it can make them more comfortable.
Cool cloths and loose clothing can also help make infants more comfortable.
Women who develop a fever when they are pregnant should consult their healthcare provider for treatment advice.
While treating the root cause of the fever, pregnant women can reduce it by taking acetaminophen and using a cooling blanket.
Fever reducers can have side effects.
A person may be allergic to acetaminophen. Symptoms can include:
- reddening skin
A person should consult a healthcare professional before taking acetaminophen if they:
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
- are taking a blood-thinning medication called warfarin
- have liver disease
Ibuprofen can cause allergic reactions in some people. Symptoms include:
A person should consult a healthcare professional before taking ibuprofen if they:
- are taking aspirin
- are in the last 3 months of pregnancy
- are taking blood-thinning medication
- have high blood pressure, kidney disease, cirrhosis, or heart disease
Aspirin can cause allergic reactions. Symptoms include:
- facial swelling
A person should consult a healthcare professional before taking this medication if they:
Signs that it is time to seek medical help for a fever vary by age:
A person should seek help for a fever if they experience the following:
- thirst alongside dark urine
An adult should also see a doctor if they have a fever during pregnancy.
A parent or caregiver should seek medical attention for an infant with a fever who experiences:
If an infant is under 3 months old, it is important to call a doctor if they experience even a slight fever.
In most cases, people develop a fever due to an infection and do not need treatment from medical professionals.
Self-care at home with plenty of liquids, rest, and OTC fever reducers can help people feel more comfortable while their body fights the illness.
If a fever lasts more than a few days or other symptoms develop, it is advisable to see a doctor.
People should always follow product instructions when using fever reducers.