When a pathogen gets into your body and your body detects it, there are many parts of the immune system that are going to kick in. You have many different cells that are designed to kill the pathogen, and your body will also create antibodies to help fight off future infections. The internal thermostat in the brain will rise to make an undesirable environment for that pathogen. This is what we call a fever.
Here are 3 common misconceptions when it comes to fevers.
1. Lower a fever to get you better – That is incorrect. In fact, your body purposely created that fever in response to a pathogen, to rid your body of that pathogen. When you worry about bringing down a fever it is like a fireman who tries to turn off the fire alarm rather than fighting the fire. Moderate to high fevers (up to 106) can usually be allowed to run its course.
2. A high fever is the main concern – That is incorrect. The main concern should actually be dehydration, NOT the fever. Prolonged fever, vomiting, and diarrhea are things that can cause dehydration, and when the body is dehydrated it makes it harder for the body to maintain a stable temperature at high levels. Infants in particular are more susceptible to dehydration.
3. A high fever can cause brain damage – That is incorrect. If brain injury does occur with a fever illness, the damage to the brain was caused because of the infection in the brain or meninges (encephalitis or meningitis) and not because of a very high fever.
So what should you do? Trust your body, your body is designed to stay in balance, and sometimes it takes a fever to maintain that balance.
1. Atkins, E. Fever: Historical Perspectives and Evolution of Modern Views. Brit J of Rheumatology 1985; 24 (suppl 1):1-5
2. Crocetti, M et al. Fever Phobia Revisited: Have Parental Misconceptions About Fever Changedin 20 Years? Pediatrics 2001, 107(6): 1241-1246
3. Fletcher, JL, Creten, D. Perceptions of Fever Among Adults in a Family Practice Setting. J Fam Pract 1986; 22(5):427-430
4. Klein, NC, Cunha, BA. Treatmentof Fever. Infec Dis Clin North Am 1996; 10(1):211-6