Fever: Your Body’s Defense against Disease
Do you worry when your child has a fever and reach for the telephone to let your doctor know right away? Many parents do, because medical professionals-doctors and nurses-have led them to believe that all fevers are dangerous. Doctors have also reinforced the mistaken notion that the height of a child’s temperature is a measure of how sick he is. That’s why fever is the symp tom that produces about 30 percent of the patients a peddiatrician sees.
When you telephone your pediatrician to tell him your child is sick his first question, almost invariably is “Have you taken his temperature?” Whether you tell Him 101 or 104, he’ll probably tell you to give the kid aspirin and bring him to the office. This ritual is almost versal among pediatricians. I suspect that some of them perform it by rote and would offer the same advice if you told him your child’s temperature was 110! What troubles me is that they ask the wrong question and give the wrong advice. The very fact that fever is their first concern implies that there is something implicitly dangerous about fever itself. Then, when they prescribe aspirin, you are led to the inevitable conclusion that it is necessary and desirable to treat your child with drugs to bring the fever down.
This charade continues when you take your child to the doctor s office. In most practices the first thing the nurse does is to take his terr ,ture and write it on his chart. There’s nothing in wrong. that. An elevated temperature does offer a diagnostic clue that can be important in the context of everything else the doctor learns during his subsequent examination. The problem is that the presence of fever is too often given more importance than that. When the doctor finally arrives in the examining room he is apt to look at the chart, assume an expression of benign concern, and say gravely, “Hmmm, 102 degrees. Well, now, we’d better do something about that!”
That’s nonsense-misleading nonsense-because the presence of fever, by itself, does not mean that he must or should do anything at all. Unless there are additional symptoms such as extreme listlessness, abnormal behavior, respiratory difficulty, and others that could indicate the presence of serious diseases such as diphtheria and meningitis, your doctor should tell you there is nothing to worry about and send you and your child home.
It is not surprising, in view of this misleading preoccupation of doctors with fever, that the vast majority of parents questioned in surveys fear it greatly and that their degree of concern increases with each degree of temperature registered on the thermometer. Rarely is this concern justified. You’ll be spared a lot of parental anguish, and your child will avoid needless and potentially harmful tests, X-rays, and medication, if you keep in mind some basic facts about fever. These are truths that every doctor should know, that many seem to ignore, and that most of them won’t tell you.
Fact No.1: A temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is not the “normal” temperature for everyone.
That’s what most of us have been told all of our lives, but it simply isn’t true. The 98.6-degree standard for body temperature is merely a statistical average, and “normal” for most people is either higher or lower than that. This is particularly true of children. Their “normal” temperatures, measured in carefully controlled studies, ranged from a low of 96.6 degrees to a high of 99.4. Very few of these healthy children registered temperatures of precisely 98.6 degrees.
Your child’s temperature may also fluctuate significantly througt.out the day. You can expect his temperature to be about a degree higher in the late afternoon than it is in the early morning. Thus, an elevated reading taken at dinnertime may be a perfectly normal reading that occurs at that hour almost every day.
Fact No.2: Your child’s temperature may rise for a variety of reasons that do not signify illness.
Children’s temperatures may be elevated while they are digesting a heavy meal. They may increase because of ovulation in pubertal teenagers. Sometimes they are a side effect of medications prescribed by your doctorantihistarnint; and others.
Fact No.3: The fevers you should be concerned about usually stem from an obvious cause.
Most of the fevers that spell serious trouble are the result of poisoning, or exposure to toxic substances in the environment, and to causes that lead to “heatstroke.” You’ve probably witnessed the latter in person or on TV-the soldier collapsing on the parade ground, or the marathon runner falling by the wayside, because of excessive physical exertion in the hot sun. Temperatures of 107 degrees or above, resulting from these causes, can result in lasting bodily harm, as can those – that occur when someone becomes overheated from spending too much time in a sauna or Jacuzzi.
If you suspect that your child has swallowed a poisonous substance, call the poison center immediately. If you can’t reach a poison center, don’t wait to see if there are adverse reactions. Rush him to a hospital emergency room right away and. if possible, take the poison container with you. That will help determine the appropriate antidote. Most of the time the swallowed substance will be relatively innocuous, but you”ll be glad you sought help promptly on the occasion when it isn’t.
Fevers and Brain Damage
The following Q & A exchange comes from Hospital Medicine, October 1994, page 58:
Q: “How often do high fevers cause brain damage in children?”
A. “Most temperatures below 105.80 (410 C) are considered harmless in pediatric patients and are rarely associated with brain damage. Temperatures at or above this level signal a high possibility of serious illness in children and are frequently associated with bacterial meningitis or sepsis. Of course, if the brain itself is infected, brain damage may occur.
“Naturally, fever is of concern to parents and physicians, but activity level or responsiveness remains a far better index of the degree of a child’s illness than height of fever.”
By way of commentary, fevers are a good sign that the child’s immune system is being activated and functioning properly. Chiropractic Wellness Care helps keep your entire family’s immune systems functioning properly by correcting spinal subluxation nerve interference.
Notes from Dr. Borio:
High fevers kill the bacteria/virus that has invaded your body. Fevers are a good sign that the body is working. Do not reduce the fever.
By decreasing nerve interference caused by misalignment of vertebrae, the white cells in your blood will increase their activity in fighting off your infection.
Science tells us that neutrophils and monocYtes – two cell types that basically eat germs – will destroy more of them if your spine is adjusted.
Leucotaxis – for every degree that your body temperature increases, the activity of your white blood cells doubles.
Reducing Fever Not Always Wise
Tropical fish create fever by moving near a light source when they get sick. Sick lizards move into the sun for the same reason. Yet we try to reduce fevers, particularly when they happen to our children.
We fear “febrile convulsions,” for example, despite studies in which high fevers “were associated with lower incidence of subsequent febrile convulsions,” and despite the lack of “any data in the literature proving that fever is actually the cause of convulsions.”
Children probably have higher fevers than adults to boost their underdeveloped immune systems, which are “more susceptible to pathogenic orsanisms.” In the first two months of life, In fact, when Infants are still pro tected by their mothers’ immunity, they “tend to have minimal or no fever during infectious illnesses.”
The fact that “many physicians still think of fever as being harmful to their patients” is probably based on misunderstanding. “During a life-threatening illness,” in fact, reducing a fever “may result in moving the infected patient closer toward a critical point where he/she is unable to mount an adequate acute phase response.” M.j. Kluger, “Fever revisited,” Pediatrics 90 (1992): 846-50.