How Fever Fights Infection

Fever happens. A fever is an elevated body temperature. Normal body temperature is one degree below or above 98.6 Fahrenheit. Body temperatures vary according to different people and according to where temperature is measured. Measuring your temperature orally or under your armpit is best.

Why a fever?

A fever indicts that you have a viral or bacterial infection in your body. When your immune system detects an infection somewhere in your body, it kicks into action. Your immune system notifies your hypothalamus, at the base of your brain, of an intruder in your body. In turn, the hypothalamus sends a message to your body to make extra heat to fight the infection. This is what causes your body temperature to elevate, giving you a fever. Fever is actually a critical defense against infection. It signals that there is a battle going on inside your body.

What else causes fever?

There are other reasons besides infection that cause a fever. Teething babies often get a low-grade fever. Autoimmune or inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, lupus, colitis, Crohn's disease, or vasculitis can elevate your body's temperature. Sometimes fever is the first symptom of cancer, especially leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, or non-Hodgkin's disease. If a blood clot occurs in your body, the area around it can feel warm, and you can get a low-grade fever. Some medications such as antibiotics, antihistamines, or seizure medications can elevate your body's temperature. Your body's immune system reacts to drug or alcohol withdrawal with a low-grade fever. Additionally, getting overheated in the summer can cause a fever, which can lead to a heat stroke.

Lowering a fever

If you or one of your family members get a fever, here are some simple ways to treat it. As fever can be helpful to beat an infection, your goal should not be to eliminate it, but to lower it.

  • Drink a lot of fluids.
  • Rest.
  • Wear lightweight clothes and cover up with a lightweight blanket.
  • Take a lukewarm bath. Do not use ice or take a cold bath. This can cause chills and actually raise a temperature.
  • Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen can help reduce fever in children and adults.
  • Aspirin can help reduce fever in adults. However, NEVER give aspirin to children.

When to call your doctor

Call your doctor if your child:

  • Is between 3 to 12 months and has a fever higher than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Is older than age 2 and has a fever greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Has had a fever come and go over for at least a week's time
  • Has a serious medical condition, such as a heart problem, diabetes, or cystic fibrosis or is being treated for cancer
  • Has a rash
  • Recently had his or her immunizations
  • Has other symptoms such as sore throat, painful urination, and headaches
  • Recently traveled overseas, especially to a Third World country

Call your doctor if you or another adult:

  • Has a fever greater than 105 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Has a serious medical illness, such as diabetes, cancer or autoimmune disease, or heart problems
  • Has a rash or bruises appear
  • Has other symptoms such as painful urination and sore throat
  • Has recently been to a Third World country

Fever is an indication that your body is fighting an infection. Fever also occurs because of cancer or autoimmune diseases. Remember, if you have a fever, the goal is not to eliminate it, but to lower it.

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