A person might not feel well when running a fever, but having a fever actually is a good thing. This rise in body temperature is a sign that the immune system has been triggered into gear. A fever of 100 or 101 degrees Fahrenheit means that white blood cells have been called to fight infection. Special treatment may be required if the fever goes very high, as seizures can occur. There can be damage to the nervous system if a fever rises above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Normal body temperature for most people is usually 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, although average body temperature can vary among individuals. A child’s temperature can fluctuate up and down by two degrees throughout the day. Only if body temperature rises above the normal range is a person considered to have a fever. But whenever an illness caused by a virus or bacteria strikes, fever is sure to be a symptom.
A fever usually involves more than an elevated body temperature. Running a fever can make a person feel hot and then cold. Individuals may experience aching muscles, listlessness, a feeling of exhaustion and chills. Shivering is a sign that a fever is rising, but once a person begins to sweat, that means the fever is dropping.
A fever is a common symptom of many different illnesses including colds, flu, pneumonia and bronchitis. However, a fever can be a response to an infection or inflammation anywhere in the body. A number of typical childhood diseases are also accompanied by fever. These include measles, mumps, chicken pox and ear infections. A fever is often a natural reaction to some cancers, injury or trauma, especially when body tissue is destroyed.
Role of the Hypothalamus
Body temperature is controlled by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Metabolism, shivering and sweating all are regulated by the hypothalamus to maintain normal body temperature. When a virus or bacteria invade the body, fever-inducing chemicals in the blood called pyrogens begin to reproduce to fight off infection. These pyrogens signal the hypothalamus to increase body temperature. Contrary to what one might think, the immune system actually works better when body temperature is higher. Some clinical studies suggest that the hypothalamus induces fever caused by bacterial infection.
A light sponge bath using tepid water can help to make a person feel more comfortable. Taking hot baths or covering up with a heavy blanket should be avoided because these can make a fever rise higher. Drink plenty of fluids like water and fruit juices to prevent dehydration. Children and older adults, especially, can dehydrate quickly if a fever is high. If vomiting is another symptom of illness, drink cool, clear liquids in small sips. In some cases, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin may be needed to help lower a fever. However, some studies suggest a strong relationship between the use of aspirin in children and Reye’s syndrome, a disease that can cause damage to the brain and liver. In some instances of Reye’s syndrome, death can occur. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before giving aspirin or other products containing aspirin to your child.