A fever is the body’s natural mechanism for fighting infection. Knowing how to manage it is knowledge we all need to have,particularly in the setting of certain disease processes or if someone is having chemotherapy.
What is a high temperature?
A normal temperature is generally considered to be in the range of 36 – 37 degrees celcius. When it goes over 38 degrees, there is some kind of infection going on and it is regarded as a fever, and when it hits 39-40 it is a high temperature. Over 40 is a significantly high temperature. The good aspect of a temperature is that it occurs as part of the immune system’s response to invading organisms, bacterial or viral, making the environment less favourable for replication. Pyrogens are floating biochemical substances found in the blood, and are produced by sites of infection. Once detected by the hypothalamus in the brain, orders are given to increase body heat.
A fever in the setting of chemotherapy
Any fever during or following recent chemotherapy, particularly over 38 degrees requires a medical review. Blood cultures are taken to detect what form of infection is circulating and what antibiotics the bugs are sensitive to. Other bloods are taken to check the White Cell Count (WCC) because sometimes chemotherapy can knock off too many, leaving you vulnerable to infection. A low to negligible WCC with a fever is called ‘Febrile Neutrapaenia.’ You need to contact your Specialist or attend the Emergency Department after hours as soon as possible. The sooner you get antibiotics the better because your own defence mechanism is not working adeqately.
When is a fever dangerously high?
While a fever is helpful to create a hostile environment for invading pathogens, it can be tolerated less easily as the fever remains very high for a long time. It is also uncomfortable, so generally we give Paracetamol to patients with a high temperature.
If a fever goes over 42 degrees celcius, the brain is at risk of damage and a seizure may occur. This is preventable with both natural methods and medication such as Aspirin or Paracetamol. The important question is why the fever exists, and to investigate other signs and symptoms to discover the cause. Sometimes the fever persists until antibiotics or anti-viral medication is commenced.
Non-infective causes of a fever
Too much sun can give you a fever if you develop heat stroke. It is a life threatening condition which requires immediate medical intervention.
The body will also trigger a fever in response to inflammation from certain disease processes including Rheumatoid Arthritis, Connective Tissue Diseases, Malignancy, and other less common disorders.
Methamphetamine use and severe alcohol withdrawal in a long term dependency situation can also trigger a fever along with other unpleasant symptoms.
Treating a fever naturally
Rest; plenty of fluid intake (water more than other drinks), sipping small amounts regularly will help prevent vomiting; and sponging with a wet flannel all help the body cope with fever. Put a few drops of lavender or chamomile oil into the water you are using to sponge them, it just makes everyone feel better.
Herbal teas which are helpful include elderberry, peppermint, lemon balm (also relieves the headache), and blackcurrant leaf tea.
At the first signs of a fever, make a lemon juice and honey drink with warm water, or you can replace the lemon juice with apple cider vinegar. Good old fashioned lemon barley water is also very refreshing to the person feeling unwell and feverish.
Sudden onset fever
If the fever is of a sudden onset and significantly high, associated with severe headache, neck stiffness, vomiting and / or rash, don’t wait to try the home remedies. You need medical investigation immediately. If you don’t know what to do, call:
Health Direct Australia 1800 022 222
They will ask for your details, take a full history of the situation and then advise on what you need to do.
Most fevers can be treated successfully at home. Use a common sense approach and if you are still not sure or feeling concerned, call your Doctor or Specialist’s Rooms.