Fever is one of the most common and misunderstood symptoms of illness. The idea that a normal body temperature is 98.6°F is not always true. In fact, the body's temperature varies somewhat from day to day. A normal value can be as low as 96°F or as high as 99.9°F. Also, body temperature changes within the day, with a person's temperature increasing as much has one full degree Fahrenheit in the evening hours.
Fever is more likely to be due to a serious cause in a child three months of age or less. Fever is also important to report to a physician when it occurs in elderly patients.
Fever Measurement Parents of young children may find that an easy way to measure temperature is by using special color strips. These plastic strips contain several dots, or sets of chemicals, which change color at different temperatures. They are safer than glass thermometers and do not require insertion into the mouth or rectum.
Pharmacies also stock newer thermometers which are placed in the ear. These tympanic thermometers are faster to use than glass thermometers and do not require clothing removal, as a rectal thermometer does. They are also simpler for the parent who has not yet learned how to use a standard glass thermometer, and they are very accurate. Fever Therapies to Avoid Some parents give a child a water or alcohol bath to help lower temperature by allowing evaporation from the skin. Only lukewarm water should be used as a bath. Water that is too cold may cause the child to become chilled, which can be more dangerous than the fever. Alcohol is never to be used, since the child may absorb the alcohol and the chemical it contains, both of which can be deadly.
Treatment of Fever Many people's first reaction to fever is to use non-prescription products known as antipyretics, which reduce fever. However, since fever is just a symptom of an illness, physicians prefer to discover the cause of the fever and treat it. Treatment often involves prescribing an antibiotic if the fever is due to a bacterial infection. The physician may also recommend use of a non-prescription antipyretic. There are several from which the parent of patient can choose.
Aspirin was once widely used but should not be given to children or teenagers. Reye's syndrome, a rare and possibly fatal illness, can result in this patient population if aspirin is taken during an infection with the flu or chickenpox.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is an excellent choice for fever. It is usually safe when the dosage recommended on the label is followed. Acetaminophen is unsafe for use in patients under the age of 2 years without first having a physician provide a proper dose. It is available as infant's drops, children's solution and suspension, chewable tablets, junior strength tablets and adult products. The drops, suspension, solution and chewable tablets should be given as recommended for each specific age. Ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin IB, Advil, Nuprin) is another antipyretic supplied in adult and pediatric products. Adults may also choose either naproxen (e.g., Aleve) or ketoprofen (e.g., Actron, Orudis KT).
Remember, if you have questions, consult your pharmacist!