Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fever: Friend or Foe?

"Give me a fever and I can cure any illness" -- Hippocrates

Many parents consider a fever to be so dangerous that if the temperature rises to 100 degrees or 101 degrees F, they give the child fever-reducing drugs that are toxic to the liver. Worse yet, there are parents who give their child an aspirin at the first sign of fever, which poses an extremely dangerous risk for the life-threatening Reye's Disease.
If we understand how fever works, we may not unknowingly put our child's health at risk by suppressing the temperature.
Fever has two functions:
  1. To stimulate the immune system.
  2. To create an inhospitable (hot) environment for invading organisms.

Invading microbes are eaten alive by the first line of defense called macrophages (meaning "big eaters"). Macrophages then recruit other immune system cells and make Interleukin One (IL-1), which signals the body to raise its temperature.
How a Fever is Made
When organisms invade, the hypothalamus receives the IL-1 signal telling it that the normal temperature of 98.6 degrees F isn't enough anymore. So the hypothalamus makes another biochemical called PGE-2 which increases the body temperature high enough to protect the body from the invader.
How does the body raise its temperature when necessary?
In a healthy individual, the heat-generating mechanisms are:
  • Shivering
  • The TRH hormone
  • Vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels)
  • Pilo erection, (raising the small hairs on the skin, which suppresses sweat)
These result in a fantastic synergy of self-healing mechanisms in our bodies.
The Benefits of Fever
  • More antibodies -- cells trained to attack the exact type of bug more specifically than any pharmaceutical drug.
  • More white blood cells to fight off the invader.
  • More interferon to block the spread of viruses to healthy cells.
  • Blocks iron, the food for bacteria.
  • Directly kills microbes by creating an inhospitable environment for them

By now it should be clear that it's the germs that are begging for fever-reducing medicine, not your kids!
Treating Fever the Naturopathic Way
Always support a fever, unless it rises too high or too quickly. A fever of 102 - 103 degrees F is considered the optimal defense against microbes. Supporting a fever means to work with it. For example, one effect of fever is to slow down the movement of food through the digestive system. Therefore, to support a fever, one must either fast or eat light foods such as soups and drink plenty of water till the fever breaks.
Since exercise and activity will interfere with the immune system’s task, it is best to support the body's defenses by resting.
Don’t be afraid
The fear of fever is as absurd as fearing your car's engine light on the dashboard. Suppressing a fever is like asking your mechanic to disconnect the engine light rather than fixing the problem that caused the light to come on.
Logic should prevail over fear.
When medical attention may be needed:
  • Infants less than 1-month-old, with a temperature greater than 100.4 degrees F. Seek care right away for fever in this age group. Breastfeed as often as the baby desires since the mother's milk has antibodies to encounter pathogens in the baby's mouth.
  • Infants from 1-month to 3-months-old, with a temperature greater than 100.4 degrees F, if they appear ill. Again, breastfeed while waiting for care.
  • Children between 3 months and 36 months, with a temperature above 102.2 degrees F, if they appear ill.
  • Anyone with a temperature over 104.5 degrees F.
  • For children not in the above three categories, bed rest and drinking water will support the fever and allow it to do the job.

Remember, fever as a warning signal is more of a blessing than a danger.

Work with it, not against it.