With the flu rampaging on across the country, many people are finding themselves closely monitoring their body temperature for signs of a fever. While common knowledge teaches people that temperatures rising above the normal 98.6° F can signal danger, there is much more information to take into account. Don’t miss this quick guide:
What is a fever?
A fever captures the temporary increase in a body’s internal temperature typically due to infection. On a cellular level, a fever occurs when the body recognizes an infectious agent, like the flu virus, and initiates an immune response. This response includes stimulating white blood cell production to go fight off the virus as well as releasing a chemical called pyrogen into the bloodstream.
Pyrogen travels up to the hypothalamus area of the brain which controls temperature and cues it to both turn up and retain more body heat. This increase in temperature places physiological stress on the body in an effort to make the virus’ environment more hostile and less easy to infect.
Most fevers are not dangerous until they start creeping over 103 or 104° F. Children will often have higher temperatures than adults, and temperature can vary depending on the time of day and exactly where you measure it.
How do I monitor a fever?
While some moms and dads may be experts at detecting their kid’s temperature spikes with the back of their hand, it is still best practice to use a reliable and accurate thermometer to identify high-grade fever increases. Digital thermometers especially make it easier than ever to quickly measure and record fevers under the tongue, peripherally by swiping over the forehead, or even under the armpit. Experts recommend taking rectal temperatures for kids as small as infants to get the most accurate reading.
In addition to increased temperature, the fever may also be accompanied by symptoms including feeling cold, sweating, or experiencing chills (shaking and shivering due to involuntary rapid muscle contraction). Most fevers will only last 3 to 4 days, however, they can be exceptionally taxing when you have the flu. Record your temperature readings if you feel ill so you can share that information with your doctor.
Should I treat a fever right away?
Fevers can feel scary so it is no surprise that many people immediately want to administer over-the-counter fever reducers, like Tylenol, to keep temperature increases at bay. The truth is, however, that fever can assist your body’s defenses (to a point).
When it comes to treating kids with fevers, the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes comfort over “normal temperature.” If your child is not in distress, experts recommend letting the fever run its course so it can aid the body’s fight against infection. For infants 2 and under though, seeking medical advice when a fever rises over 100.4° F is best practice.
When a combination of symptoms like you might see with the flu in kids and adults is contributing to fatigue and dehydration, however, helping reduce fever to improve comfort and aid sleep is a good idea.
While fever is a good frontline indicator of a potential infection, it is not the only one. The 2017-2018 flu season is already leading to more hospitalizations than it has in over a decade, so recognizing signs and symptoms as soon as possible is in everyone’s best interests.
In addition to a cough, stuffy nose, and fever, sore throat, headache, body aches, chills, even vomiting, and diarrhea can take place when you have the flu. Seek immediate medical treatment if you think you may have it – doctors can do a quick throat swab to test for the flu and potentially get you medicine to help right away.