What is a fever?
A fever is when your body temperature temporarily rises higher than normal. An adult’s body temperature should be approximately 37°C, but when it reaches 38°C or above, it is classed as a fever.
Most of the time, it is caused by an infection, but it can be the result of a non-infectious condition triggering the body’s inflammatory response. In general, a fever helps your body fight infection. By increasing the body’s temperature, it makes it harder the bacteria or viruses to survive – it’s your body’s natural defence.
The prognosis will depend on what is causing the fever. With proper treatment, it shouldn’t be a problem, but if a fever is persistent, it is important to consult with your GP or a specialist to make a diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of a fever?
The main symptoms of a fever are:
- High temperature
- Chills and shivering
- General discomfort
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- Febrile seizure (usually in young children)
How is a diagnosis made?
At home, you can check your or your child’s temperature. There are several ways to do this; using an oral, rectal, ear or forehead thermometer. The most common way is by using an oral thermometer by placing it under the tongue or the armpit.
If you see a doctor about your fever, they may ask about your symptoms and medical history, perform a physical exam and do some blood tests.
If your new-born baby is suffering from a fever, he/she might be admitted to the hospital for testing and treatment. A fever in a baby younger than 28 days can indicate a serious illness.
What are the causes of a fever?
The main cause of a fever is from a viral or bacterial infection, although there are other causes such as medications, heat exhaustion, hyperthyroidism, a malignant tumour and rheumatoid arthritis. However, the most common causes are:
It is important to note that throughout the day our body temperature fluctuates – usually lower in the morning and higher in the evening – so it’s normal for your body temperature to vary by a degree or more.
Can it be prevented?
A fever can’t be prevented, as it’s the body’s natural response to an infection, but contracting infectious diseases can be prevented by reducing your exposure to them. In children, this can be prevented by vaccination such as measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, etc. In addition, adults can protect themselves by following good hygiene, washing their hands frequently, not touching their nose, mouth or eyes often and not sharing cups and utensils.
What are the treatments?
In the case of minor fever, your doctor may not recommend treatment to lower your temperature as it’s beneficial for you to fight the infection.
If the fever is high, there are many over-the-counter medications you can take, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen to bring the temperature down. If it is causing you a lot of discomfort, then the main treatment is usually aimed at fighting the infection. It is important to consult a specialist when this happens, since they may need to prescribe antibiotics or other forms of medication.
If a high fever develops in a child, you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve their symptoms, but ensure that you check on them regularly at night and they get plenty of fluids throughout the day. Children under 3 months should not be given paracetamol or ibuprofen and those with asthma should avoid ibuprofen. Never give aspirin to a child under 16.
Lifestyle and home remedies
There are some lifestyle changes you can make to alleviate symptoms of fever and feel more comfortable:
- Sleep and rest: resting can boost your immune system and get you feeling better sooner. When you sleep, it helps your body fight the infection that is causing you to feel unwell.
- Drink plenty of fluids: a fever can cause rapid fluid loss and dehydration. Drink plenty of water and juices, and for children, you can also give them ice pops which will help cool them down.
- Dress lightly and stay cool: keep the room at a comfortable temperature and dress in light clothing so as not to overheat.
If you or your child’s temperature is higher than 39°C, it is considered a high-grade fever. If it reaches above 42°C it is considered dangerous and this type of fever should not be left untreated as it can lead to serious, long-lasting damage. Always visit your GP if you have any worries or doubts.