Fevers can be uncomfortable, especially when accompanied by body aches and other symptoms. When a fever strikes, it causes us to feel cold, to shiver, and to generally be unwell. Most of us want to lie down and rest with a fever, but sometimes, you just have to keep going until you can get home. While you can function with a fever (unless it’s very high), you may be uncomfortable. Taking an over the counter pain reliever/fever reducer, like Tylenol or Advil, is the best option to bring down your temperature and help you feel better. When is it time to be concerned about a fever? Let’s take a look at common causes of fevers and find out when they are serious.
What is a fever? A fever is a temporary rise in body temperature, usually due to an illness. Fevers are actually a normal and healthy reaction to illness. Fevers help the body fight infection. When you have a fever, your body’s white blood cells are increasing, affecting your hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a portion of the brain that links the nervous system to endocrine system through the pituitary gland. Among other things, the hypothalamus regulates temperature. In the early stages of a fever, you get the chills and start to shiver. This is the body’s normal reaction to a rising temperature.
Common Causes of Fevers
The most common causes of fevers are infection, either bacterial or viral. Most bacteria do not cause illness. As a matter of fact, most bacteria are actually good for us, like the bacteria that live in our digestive system and help us digest our food (our ‘gut’ bacteria). But certain bacteria, like streptococcus (the bacteria that causes strep throat) and some strains of E. coli can cause people to become very ill. Thusly, viral infections are more common than bacterial infections, and much more likely to cause a fever. A cold, for example, is a virus, just like the flu. Both bacteria and viruses can cause fevers in adults and children, though viruses are the more likely suspect.
When to see a Doctor
For an adult, a fever becomes dangerous when it reaches between 104 and 107° F. These high grade fevers are also called hyperpyrexia. If a fever reaches 104° F, lasts more than 7 days and/or is accompanies by other symptoms, such as muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea or severe headache, seek immediate medical attention.
For children, the fever guideline is a little bit smaller. “Young children don’t have a fully developed immune system or the ability to internally fight infections as well as adults. If a child under the age of 3 months develops a fever over 100.4°, they should be immediately seen by a doctor. Even if it’s over the weekend, you can take your child to the nearest emergency room, including freestanding facilities like The Colony ER Hospital,” say Dr. Holland, our Medical Director. For children 3 to 6 months of age, any temperature over 101° F or higher needs immediate medical attention; over 6 months, a fever of 103° F higher. In general, any fever that lasts more than 48 hours in a child, no matter how low, should be evaluated by a physician. Parents should also watch for signs of dehydration (dry mouth, refusing liquids and a decrease in urination), lethargy, excessive sleeping or having difficulty breathing. Any of these signs mean you should take your child to the emergency room or nearest doctor immediately.
If any adult or child has a compromised immune system due to an underlying medical condition, they should immediately be seen by a doctor.
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