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Fever

Male smiling after being pain free from headache

Fever and High Temperature

What is a fever?

A fever is the body’s internal coping mechanism. A fever is when the body temperature increases and the fever then acts as a sign to show that something out of the ordinary is happening inside the body.1

Most people believe that the severity of a fever is dependent on the severity of the illness however, this is not the case.2 A fever often assists the body’s immune system in fighting off the infection.3

What is a normal body temperature?

The normal body temperature range of an individual is around 37 degrees centigrade - give or take a degree depending on the individual.4 Also, minor fluctuations in temperature may occur depending on what time of the day it is.5

What temperature is a fever?

The fever triggered by a viral or bacterial infection is caused by chemicals produced by the immune system, which reset the body’s thermostat to a higher level.

Most cases of mild fever resolve by themselves within a couple of days. A mild fever (up to 39°C) can actually help the immune system to get rid of an infection. In children between the ages of six months and six years, fever can trigger convulsions. A fever of 42.4°C or higher, particularly in the elderly, can permanently damage the brain.

What causes a fever?

When the body’s natural thermostat shifts, it forces the normal temperature of the body to increase and this is when the fever occurs. Fevers can be caused by:7,8

  • Viruses (i.e. colds, upper respiratory tract infection)
  • Bacterial infections
  • Heat exhaustion and heat stroke (i.e. fever without sweating)
  • Extreme sunburn
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Some medications and immunizations

The most common cause of a fever is an infection however, the cause can sometimes be unidentified.9,10

What are common fever symptoms?

Fever symptoms can vary depending on what is causing the fever. Some symptoms of a mild fever (fever temperature of 37 – 39.4°C) include:11,12

  • Feeling unwell
  • Feeling hot and sweaty
  • Shivering
  • Chattering teeth
  • Flushed face
  • Muscle aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • General weakness

How do I know if I have a fever (diagnosis)?

A fever is a symptom not an illness, meaning the cause of the fever needs to be determined for a diagnosis.13 If the cause of the fever is unclear, a doctor may perform the following tests:14,15

  • Basic family history test
  • Blood tests
  • Urine examination and culture
  • Throat swabs or mucus sample
  • Stool examination and culture
  • X-rays

What are the treatment and relief options available to help with fevers?

There are various treatments that can help with fevers and provide relief. However, the severity and the cause of the fever will determine which treatment method is most appropriate.

If suffering from a mild fever, the doctor may suggest not using any treatment as the body will fight the infection naturally.16

Over-the-counter medications

If experiencing a fever, speak with your pharmacist about over the counter medications, such as ibuprofen, that can help lower body temperature and relieve symptoms and whether these medications are appropriate for you.

Ibuprofen assists in blocking the production of prostaglandins which are chemicals in the body which cause inflammation, pain and fevers by increasing body temperatures and dilating the blood vessels at the location of the pain source.17

Prescription medications

A doctor may prescribe medication depending on the cause of the fever.

For Infants and Children

For infants who are younger than 28 days old, the child should be admitted into hospital for treatment.18 A fever at this age could indicate serious illness and infection.19

At home self-treatment

To help provide fever relief at home, try the following tips:20

  • Take medication such as ibuprofen to help bring temperatures down
  • Drink fluids, especially water
  • Avoid alcohol, coffee and tea
  • Sponge exposed skin with tepid water to cool the body
  • Avoid taking cold baths or showers
  • Rest

If you are unsure about what treatment is most appropriate for you, visit your pharmacist or doctor.

How can I prevent another fever from occurring?

The best way to prevent another fever from occurring is to reduce exposure to other infectious diseases.21 Below are some tips to help reduce exposure:22

  • Wash hands regularly
  • Avoid touching nose, mouth and eye area
  • Cover mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid sharing food, cups, water bottles and utensils

When do I see a doctor (adult)?

It is best to see your doctor if any of the following appear whilst you have a fever:23,24

  • Fever stays for three days
  • High Temperature - over 40°C
  • Shivering, shaking and teeth chattering
  • Hot but not sweating
  • Symptoms worsen
  • Unusual symptoms occur (i.e. vomiting, neck stiffness, rash, rapid heart rate, chills or muscle spasm)
  • Feeling confused and drowsy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe headache
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Recently travelled overseas

When do I see a doctor (child)?

It is best to seek medical advice without delay if your child has a fever and any one or more of the following:25

  • Younger than 6 months
  • Fever stays for more than 2 days
  • Headache, pain in the stomach or limbs
  • Earache
  • Problems swallowing
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Rash

If your child is suffering from a fever and any of the below, please seek medical advice immediately:26

  • Seems very sick
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stiff neck
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Bulging fontanelle (soft spot on baby’s head)
  • Unusually sleepy

References:

  1. 1Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017]http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  2. 2Better Health, Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fever
  3. 3NPS Australia, How do I treat a fever?, [Accessed 24 January 2017] http://www.nps.org.au/conditions/respiratory-problems/respiratory-tract-infections/for-individuals/symptoms/relieving-the-symptoms-of-a-respiratory-tract-infection/how-do-i-treat-a-fever
  4. 4Better Health, Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017]https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fever
  5. 5Better Health, Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017]https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fever
  6. 6Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  7. 7Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  8. 8Better Health, Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017]https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fever
  9. 9Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  10. 10Better Health, Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fever
  11. 11Better Health, Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fever
  12. 12Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  13. 13Better Health, Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017]https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fever
  14. 14Better Health, Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fever
  15. 15 Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  16. 16Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  17. 17Better Health Channel, Medications – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, [Accessed 11 January 2017]https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/medications-non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory-drugs
  18. 18Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  19. 19Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  20. 20 Better Health, Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fever
  21. 21Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017]http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  22. 22Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  23. 23Better Health, Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017]https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fever
  24. 24 Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions – Fever, [Accessed 23 January 2017] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/basics/definition/con-20019229
  25. 25NPS Australia, How do I treat a fever?, [Accessed 24 January 2017] http://www.nps.org.au/conditions/respiratory-problems/respiratory-tract-infections/for-individuals/symptoms/relieving-the-symptoms-of-a-respiratory-tract-infection/how-do-i-treat-a-fever
  26. 26 NPS Australia, How do I treat a fever?, [Accessed 24 January 2017] http://www.nps.org.au/conditions/respiratory-problems/respiratory-tract-infections/for-individuals/symptoms/relieving-the-symptoms-of-a-respiratory-tract-infection/how-do-i-treat-a-fever