Part 2 in our series on fever

How to Bring Fever Down Safelyby James Hubbard, MD, MPH

It’s a common worry—you come down with some illness, start running a fever, and feel miserable. You don’t care if fever is one of the ways the body fights off infection. You just want to feel better.

And I don’t necessarily disagree, if you use the proper methods and don’t overdo them, because fever isn’t the only thing that helps your body fight off infection.

Bringing fever down to make you feel better increases the odds you’ll drink more fluids and maybe eat a little. (Dehydration makes all your organs work less efficiently and is one of the main dangers to try to avoid in almost any illness.)

But some can people obsess a little too much about fever. Fever from infection that stays below 105 F orally doesn’t directly damage the body, at least as far as we know. Of course the cause of the fever needs to be properly diagnosed, and treatment begun. A fever even lower than this can be a sign that something’s going dangerously wrong. But that thing isn’t the fever. And you can do harm by trying to bring the oral body temperature down to exactly normal. (The main thing is don’t overdose on medicines.)

Here are some practical ways to bring fever down—with and without medicine:

  • Taking ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Either takes 30 minutes or an hour to start working, with the peak effect kicking in around four hours. They’ve both been found to work about the same. Use whichever you prefer (heeding the precautions), but remember acetaminophen is usually given no more than every four hours and ibuprofen no more than every six hours.
  • Alternating the two. This method may work better, but the side effects of using both have not been well studied. Ask your doctor ahead of time for specific advice. If recommended, ask for suggested time intervals between the two.
  • Taking a lukewarm bath. This may help. But if you start shivering, that can actually make the temperature rise instead of fall. Taking acetaminophen an hour before the bath can cut down on the shivering.
What Not to Do

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“Alcohol bath for fever: Never do this. Dangerous amounts of alcohol can be absorbed through the skin.”

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Alcohol bath. Never do this. Dangerous amounts of alcohol can be absorbed through the skin.

Also be careful of overdosing. Never take over the recommended dosage and time interval of acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (No aspirin for children and fever. It increases the risk for the potentially deadly Reye’s syndrome). Doing so poses a real risk of permanent kidney or liver damage. Of course, if you take too little that won’t help either. Go by the package directions. Also make sure any other over-the-counter medicine you’re taking doesn’t contain either of the two.

Always check with your doctor for specific instructions. Also, read my tips on when to worry about a fever.

 

So, what do you think? Have you ever been not able to get a fever down? What was the outcome?