For parents, fever can be very distressing. However, most of the time it’s a lack of understanding which can make them seem so worrying. In this article, we are going to explain what a fever is, what causes them, and how to avoid them.
What is a fever?
Fever is the body’s natural response to fighting infection, where the body’s temperature is raised. An increased body temperature helps the immune system work more effectively. Studies have shown that our infection-fighting white blood cells are stimulated and there is an increased production of antibodies when our temperature is higher.
The second purpose for a fever is that elevated heat levels within the body have been found to slow down, and in some cases stop, the growth and reproduction of some kinds of bacteria that can’t function in warmer environments.
We know that the science behind a fever can be overwhelming. However, the thing to bear in mind is that this is our body’s immediate and highly effective way of fighting infection.
What causes a fever?
Unfortunately, there’s no simple explanation as to what external factors cause a fever, as it can be a symptom of a multitude of illnesses. A fever is brought about as our immune systems flood our bodies with a substance that affects the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that controls temperature. The most common causes in children are upper respiratory tract infections, flu and ear infections. As the body fights these infections, a fever will quickly set in, leaving your little one feeling groggy, tired and bothered. As these afflictions take effect and our hypothalamus becomes activated, our temperature begins to rise.
When should a fever be treated?
A fever is the body’s natural response to an infection. So, this presents the dilemma: at what point do you decide to intervene? While your little one will feel uncomfortable, the fever is actually helping their body fight the infection. It may be upsetting to see your child hot and bothered, but it is their body doing what it needs to for them feel well again. General advice recommends that unless the child is obviously distressed, it’s best to avoid reducing their temperature with antipyretics. That said, it is important to know the symptoms to watch that can accompany a fever. If the child at any point has a headache, muscular pain or becomes unresponsive it is important to see a doctor immediately.
What can you do?
Keep them hydrated – While your child’s body responds to increased temperature as it fights the infection, it is important they remain hydrated. Once the fever takes hold, they will be losing fluids quickly through sweat and these will need to be replaced. Either water, hydration fluids or milk will suffice and if you’re struggling to get them to drink, try offering their drink with a straw or in a special cup to make it more interesting and engaging for them.
Let them rest – Encourage your child to rest, allowing their body to get well again. Knowing some effective and easy ways to help cool them down and feel more comfortable will help them relax, recuperate and get back to their usual selves.
How you can avoid a fever
Don’t forget to try and avoid the spread of the illness to yourself or other family members. Regularly disinfect surfaces and door handles, keep the room at a humidity level between 40%-60% and keep your family’s immune system fighting fit with a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. A balanced diet of fruit, vegetables and healthy proteins, ideally lean meat and fish. Looking after you can be as important as looking after them! Remember, if you are at all worried, don’t hesitate to seek expert medical advice. Contact your GP or health visitor urgently if your child:
Is under three months old and has an oral temperature of 37.4°C or above;
Is between three and six months old and has an oral temperature of 38.5°C or above;
If your child has other signs of being unwell, such as persistent vomiting, refusal to feed, floppiness or drowsiness.