When I was a child, my parents used many natural remedies on my brother and me when we were sick. As a result I am not very familiar with over-the-counter drugs, and when Clementine got her first fever the last thing on my mind was to give her Tylenol. At the same time I really had no clue what else to do.
So I googled, and of course found mountains of conflicting information:
Fevers above 99° F should be treated; no those aren’t actual fevers, medication isn’t needed until over 100.4° F. No, 102° F. Actually, 105° F. Hurry, treat it – there may be potential brain damage! Well as long as the child doesn’t have a seizure they will be fine. But you should medicate right away to prevent a seizure. No, don’t medicate, seizures aren’t even dangerous. Give an ice bath. No, it should be a hot bath. Lukewarm.”
I did eventually come across the type of answers I was looking for on natural health sites, but I was a nervous first-time mom and didn’t want to do the wrong thing. Long story short, we ended up in the ER at Children’s Hospital LA with a confirmed double ear infection a few days later.
There I was handed a piece of paper with the title “Fever Myths and Facts” typed across the top. This list totally jived with the natural health concepts I had been reading! It gave me the confidence I needed to say, “Farewell” to fever reducers for good.
THE TRUTH ABOUT FEVERS
(Note: The fevers discussed in this post apply to individuals older than 3 mos of age and to natural fevers that are accompanied by infection (not from poisoning or exposure to extreme environmental temperatures). If the fever you are experiencing does not meet this criteria, please seek out medical treatment.)
- Killing a fever can extend the illness. Our bodies are naturally equipped to detox, weed out, and heal so many things without any outside help. Fevers are no exception; they are built-in natural remedies that work hard to kill the infection. Untreated, a fever will likely run its course and take the infection down within a day or two. When high temperatures are suppressed by medication, that natural fight against infection is 50% less intense and can often take up to 3 or 4 days! “Fevers turn on the body’s immune system… (and) are one of the body’s protective mechanisms. (Fevers) are good for sick children and help the body fight infection.”
- Some “fevers” aren’t actually fevers. I have heard many people describe temperatures ranging from 98.7-99.9° F as “low-grade” fevers that can/should be medicated, when in fact they are “normal” temperatures. This mentality makes an actual fever (anything over 100° F) sound like a fiery furnace! A skewed understanding of the body’s norms can lead to over-medicating out of fear. “The body’s normal temperature changes throughout the day. It peaks in the late afternoon and evening. A true low-grade fever is 100° F to 102° F.”
- Fevers will naturally top out before they reach dangerous levels. Even more concerning than seeing high numbers on your child’s thermometer reading is seeing them continue to climb over a period of time. It is logical to assume those numbers will continue to get higher if we don’t intervene, but thankfully the body isn’t built to keep getting hotter and hotter. “Because the brain has a thermostat, fevers from infection usually top out at 103° F to 104° F.” And what is more, “Fevers with infections don’t cause brain damage. Only body temperatures over 108° F can cause brain damage… (caused by) extreme environmental temperatures.” If my child’s untreated fever reaches 104° F or continues to persist for several days, medication and/or medical treatment become a consideration for us, but from what I understand this would be a rare case.
- Medicine won’t always bring the fever down completely. One mom recently told me her’s son’s medicated fever only reduced from 103° F down to 101° F, so she administered an extra dose of Tylenol above the recommendation to get it “back to normal.” But here is the thing: Fever reducers aren’t supposed to be able to bring body temperatures back down to normal ranges. “With treatment, fevers usually come down 2-3 F.” This limited ability is to be expected, and increasing dosage can quickly become dangerous (see medicine toxicity section below).
- Medicated fevers will keep coming back once the medicine wears off. Tylenol, or any such medicine, does not have the power to reverse a fever, it simply makes the sick individual more comfortable by temporarily bringing down the heat. “…when the fever medicine wears off, the fever will return and need to be treated again.” This cycle will normally last about three days, stopping only when “…your child’s body overpowers the virus (usually by the fourth day).”
- Febrile seizures are not harmful, nor are they common. I have heard that fevers should be medicated in order to avoid febrile seizures. The truth, according to CHLA, is that “Only 4% of children have febrile seizures,” and though they can be scary to watch, “They cause no permanent harm. Children who have had febrile seizures do not have a greater risk for developmental delays, learning disabilities, or seizures without fever.”
THE TRUTH ABOUT FEVER REDUCING MEDICINES & ORGAN TOXICITY
Acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) is known for two seemingly contradicting things:
- Being “the safest” pain reliever you can buy
- Being highly toxic to the liver and kidneys
So which is it? Well, from what I understand, both.
When taken properly (keeping within the proper dosage recommendations and avoiding alcohol consumption while on the medicine), Acetaminophen can be very safe and cause minimal side effects. However, accidentally overdosing on Acetaminophen is incredibly easy to do; just a slight amount above recommended doses can cause organ toxicity and failure.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, Tylenol is the #1 over-the-counter medicine killing Americans. It is estimated that 150 people die every year from accidentally overdosing, 78k users end up in the ER, and 33k find themselves hospitalized from taking too much. When taken with alcohol, the risk of kidney damage caused by Acetaminophen raises by 123%!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Natural fevers are “good guys” that help the body heal. They are not dangerous and will go away within a couple of days without our help. Fever reducers can provide comfort for the feverish, but cannot take the fever away completely and may extend the overall length of illness. Though they can potentially be taken safely, fever reducers have been known to wreak toxic havoc when guidelines are not followed to a T.
There are several conclusions one can reasonably draw from all of this, but in our home the solution is to let the fever do its thing, provide as much comfort as possible using natural means, and thank God for fevers and just another way our bodies are naturally built to survive and thrive.
This post is part of my “Farewell” Friday series.