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Fevers Are Not the Enemy!

Updated: Feb 15



Because its something that causes so much anxiety and where there's often a lot of confusion, I felt it was important to go into some depth into the topic of fevers, including some of the science. So, its turned out to be one of my lengthier blogs - feel free to dip into the bits that you find most useful!


What is a Fever?

A fever (also known as pyrexia, from the Greek pyros, meaning fire) is an oral temperature above 100 °F/ 37.8 °C. It’s caused by the thermoregulatory centre in the brain (called the hypothalamus) resetting the body’s thermostat to a higher temperature.


In response, blood (which is what carries heat around the body) is shunted away from the body’s surface towards its core, to retain heat. The body may also begin to shiver (experienced as chills) to create muscle movements that release more heat. This results in the strange sensation where a person has a climbing temperature but looks and feels cold and shivers.


Once the body reaches its new temperature setting, blood can be shunted back to the skin surface and profuse sweating may be induced to bring the rising temperature to a halt, before it reaches more dangerous levels. Thus, an alternating cycle of pale, shivery chills and red, sweaty heat is set up that persists whilst fighting the infection.


Some types of fever (known as intermittent) follow a pattern of reaching a peak at a certain time of day after which they return to more normal levels for the rest of the day. Other fevers (remittent) have temperature fluctuation cycles throughout the day, but the temperature always remains somewhere above normal body temperature. It is common for fevers to rise more in the evening and recur on subsequent evenings. The third pattern of fevers is more continuous, with fewer temperature fluctuations, and a more sustained rise and fall above normal body temperature.


Normal oral temperature ranges between 36.5-37.5˚C / 98-99.5˚ F. It tends to vary through the day, generally being lowest first thing in the morning and highest in the late afternoon. Fevers are graded according to their temperature as shown in the table below. It should be noted however, that the overall state of a patient is a better predictor of the seriousness of an illness than the height of the fever.



Intermittent and remittent fever




Continuous fever



Normal and febrile body temperature ranges (rectal)


Body temperature °C °F

Normal 37–38 98.6–100.4

Mild/low grade fever 38.1–39 100.5–102.2

Moderate grade fever 39.1–40 102.2–104.0

High grade fever 40.1–41.1 104.1–106.0

Hyperpyrexia >41.1 >106.0


*Source of graphs and table: here


Why Do We Get Fevers?

Most fevers are a response to infections such as flu, UTI infections, chicken pox, tonsillitis, sepsis or meningitis. Chemicals called pyrogens are released by white blood cells in response to the infection that signal for the hypothalamus to reset its thermostat higher.


Fevers can also occur in response to inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, allergic reaction to medical drugs, vaccinations, cancers such as leukaemia, auto-immune conditions, and trauma.


Symptoms of Fever

There are a wide range of symptoms, besides a raised temperature, associated with fevers – these include:


  • Increased perspiration

  • Shivering or chilliness

  • Headaches

  • Body aches

  • Weakness

  • Tiredness, drowsiness

  • General malaise

  • Dizziness and vertigo

  • No desire to eat


Fevers Are Your Friend!

Give me a fever and I can cure the child!

-Hippocrates


Fevers are a natural symptom of infection that, whilst uncomfortable, inconvenient, and oftentimes a little scary, are a sign of a healthy immune response that should be allowed, where possible, to follow its natural course


Within homeopathy, we view the body as having intelligence and see fever as a vital part of an intelligent response to infection. We often observe that the healthiest, most vital children are the ones that are able to throw a strong, high temperature fever. They can look and feel very ill for a short time but recover quickly. Yet those who are less robust often fail to produce a strong fever, tending more towards being chronically unwell much of the time – a kind of stuckness in the immune system where they are always just a little under par.


This positive view of fevers is in sharp contrast to the mainstream medical paradigm, where fever seems to have come to be viewed almost as an illness in its own right, to be suppressed with ibuprofen or acetaminophen at every opportunity.


This is especially bewildering because the latest science now recognises a fever as a protective immune mechanism with 2-fold benefits in fighting infection. The raised body temperature enhances immune cell (white blood cell) function for increased antimicrobial response whilst at the same time the growth and reproduction of pathogens is inhibited.


Despite this, even with the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s been common medical practice to treat fevers with anti-pyretics. Yet recent experiments show that this approach doesn’t improve survival, and as the study states;


“Blocking fever can be harmful because fever, along with other sickness symptoms, evolved as a defence against infection. Fever works by causing more damage to pathogens and infected cells than it does to healthy cells in the body. During pandemic COVID-19, the benefits of allowing fever to occur probably outweigh its harms, for individuals and for the public at large.”




The Problem with Anti-Pyretic Drugs

The most widely used medical antipyretics are acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. These drugs block the signals from the hypothalamus to raise body temperature, causing it to return to normal. This suppresses the natural immune response. As Dr Howard Chilton, from BabyDoc puts it;


“Generating a fever, by cranking up the brain’s thermostat, is the body’s way of supercharging its immune system. The increased body temperature makes the cells that kill germs (neutrophil white cells), or make antibodies (B-cells), work much more efficiently and quickly.


In both animal and human studies of infected subjects if the temperature is brought down, by cooling or drugs, the infections are more severe and last longer. In severe infections the mortality rate is increased.”



How Did Fevers Get Such a Bad Rep?

There is a lot of confusion and old dogma out there which has created a climate of fear around fevers. This may in part be due to confusion with heat stroke (hyperthermia), which is where body temperature elevates to dangerously high levels, without any change in the thermoregulatory centre’s set balance point.


This is a completely different situation that happens when your body’s natural cooling mechanisms are unable to cope with the levels of heat being experienced – the homeostatic mechanisms are simply overwhelmed.


This most commonly happens to people working/ exercising in hot climates where heat is produced faster than the body can get rid of it. Hyperthermia’s can result in temperatures above 41 ˚C/ 106 ˚F and do not respond to anti-pyretic drugs. This is obviously a dangerous situation, a medical emergency which can lead to permanent organ damage.


In a Real Science article, Ross Pomeroy summarises this confusion with fevers, which has been dubbed fever phobia, very nicely:

"Fever isn't some bodily malfunction; it's a purposeful response that evolved as many as 400,000,000 years ago. According to a report published in the journal Pediatrics:


Despite the potential benefits of fever, many people suffer from what researchers have termed "fever phobia." Though there is no evidence that fever worsens an illness or causes long-term neurologic complications, many believe that it does. As Clay Jones reported at Science-Based Medicine:


"A 2001 paper revisiting fever phobia published in Pediatrics revealed that 91% of caregivers thought fever could cause harmful side effects including seizure (32%), brain damage (21%) and death (14%). Coma and blindness also made the list. With the exception of febrile seizures, a common and benign entity seen only in young children, fever just doesn’t do these things."


Much of the misunderstanding arises from confusing another condition, hyperthermia, with fever. They are not the same. Hyperthermia is potentially life-threatening, uncontrolled bodily overheating on account of an outside source. Fever is a controlled, internal process, which rarely, if ever, raises the body's temperature to a point where actual harm can be done."


When to Seek Medical Advice

Generally a fever of up to 104˚F/ 40 ˚C can go on for several days and without posing any danger for healthy individuals. For children a fever of 103 ˚F/ 39.5 ˚C is normal with an infection. When temperatures reach 105 ˚F/ 40.5 ˚C this is more of a cause for concern, and anything above 106 ˚F/ 41 ˚C can cause a risk to life.


Hallucinations and tantrums are fairly common in childhood fevers, but if they linger and don’t clear with homeopathic prescribing, you should seek medical help.


In some senses, a fever is a calculated risk by the body to fend off pathogens. In healthy people it is almost always a successful one, but there can be side effects from very high fevers, especially in those with co-morbidities such as sepsis or heart conditions.



You Should Seek Help If:

  • A child under 3 months has a fever

  • A child between 3 months and 6 months has a fever of 102˚F/39˚C or above

  • A person of any age has a fever of 105˚F/ 40.5˚C or more

  • The patient has a history of convulsions during a fever

  • The patient has a seizure

  • The patient becomes dehydrated (signs include a sticky mouth, sunken eyes and lack of urination) and refuses to drink/ is unable to keep down fluids due to vomiting

  • The patient becomes limp and listless as this could be a sign of serious illness such as meningitis or pneumonia

  • There are co-morbidities that make it more likely that the patient could get very sick, such as cancer, sickle cell anaemia or frequent use of steroids.

  • The patient is on immunosuppressant drugs


What is Helpful?

According to Janice Sullivan MD, writing in the journal Paediatrics:


“The primary goal of treating the febrile child should be to improve the child's overall comfort rather than focus on the normalization of body temperature. When counselling the parents or caregivers of a febrile child, the general well-being of the child, the importance of monitoring activity, observing for signs of serious illness, encouraging appropriate fluid intake....should all be emphasised."



Do

  • Ensure the patient remains well hydrated. With a prolonged high fever, the biggest concern is usually dehydration. Insist on fluids. If reluctant to drink – encourage them to take small sips and offer them liquids in a form they prefer. They may prefer warm water, or ice cubes or frozen fruit lollies etc.

  • Dress the patient lightly and cover them with a sheet or light blanket whilst sleeping.

  • Make the patient comfortable, responding to their individual needs– some want to be covered others not etc.

  • Encourage lots of sleep and rest.

  • Provide a calm environment - guided by the needs of the patient.

  • Many patients won't want to eat –this is actually a good thing because fasting helps the body to eliminate toxic wastes to boost recovery. Where a patient is hungry, offer light meals like vegetable soups and fruit juices – be guided by their preferences as to whether warm or cold food and drink is best.

  • Once the fever has passed, ensure they receive a few days of highly nutritious food to aid recovery.

  • Luke warm (85 – 90˚F' 29-32˚C) sponge/ actual baths are helpful if the fever starts to raise above 103-4 ˚F/ 34-40˚C. Expose one limb at a time from the bedcovers and sponge it down.

  • Do NOT use cold water as it can cause dangerous medical problems such as hypothermia and coma.


Avoid

  • Nervous system stimulants and depressants such as coffee, sugar or alcohol

  • Do NOT give aspirin to children/teens. Aspirin has been linked to a disease called Reye’s syndrome, which affects the brain and liver and can be fatal.


Homeopathy for Fevers

As with any condition, the best way to treat a fever with homeopathy, is to choose a remedy that fits the whole picture of the illness. For example, if it’s a fever with an ear infection – include all the symptoms of the ear pain and any discharges when deciding on the right remedy.


When you treat a fever in this way, it doesn’t suppress the natural mechanisms of the body in dealing with the underlying infection, which unfortunately can’t be said for medical antipyretics (fever suppressing drugs). Well-chosen homeopathic remedies help to reduce the severity and the length of the underlying infection whilst allowing the immune system to optimise its activities.


So, when a fever is in its early stages and there may be few other symptoms, its actually best not to prescribe if you can help it. So, at this stage try not to give general fever remedies like Aconite, Belladonna, Ferrum phos or Chamomilla as they can be suppressive. These remedies are better given later if they fit the totality of symptoms.


That said, although it’s not the ideal, sometimes, when a patient is very distressed, you may want to treat their fever more directly with one of these generalised fever remedies, in order to contain it.


The sign of a good remedy in a fever is to see an agitated patient become calmer or a listless patient become more vital. Even better if the patient falls asleep – the best healing often happens then. So, it is not the disappearance of the fever itself that is what we are looking for – more an improvement in the patient’s general wellbeing. This will hasten the healing process and the fever will soon pass away.


As with any acute condition, a good rule of thumb is to give the remedy every 3-4 hours, stopping if there is any clear sign of improvement, to allow the remedy to continue its work. Only repeat again if there is a relapse. If there is no improvement after 4 doses, its unlikely to be the right remedy.



12 Remedies for Fevers

Ferrum Phos

Main remedy for lower grade fevers (up to 39°C / 102 °F).

Slower onset than Belladonna.

Worse at night, better for cold applications.

Can be associated with catarrh.

Can experience chills around 1 p.m.

Belladonna


The #1 Fever Remedy

Main remedy for high fevers (over 39°C / 102 °F) – especially with glassy eyes, dilated pupils, delirium.

Sudden onset fevers.

Can be a bit incoherent and exhibit wild behaviour, especially in children – kicking, biting, screaming.

Highly excited patients that are restless and agitated.

Red face and hot, burning skin. Heat radiates from them, especially the head.

Heat and chills alternate – so skin can be alternately dry and moist.

Perspiration on the head in particular.

May have cold feet/ extremities.

Can be associated with a sore throat.

No thirst with the fever.

Aconite

High fever from exposure to a cold wind – especially if the pupils are contracted and the patient is restless and anxious.

Useful at the first signs of fever, don’t bother with it after 12 hours.

May have nightmares.

Heat and chills alternate

Red, hot, highly flushed face alternating with pale or one cheek red and the other pale (particularly in teething children).

Awful body aches and cold sweats.

Covered parts of the body perspire, so they often throw off the bed covers.

Can feel hot inside but cold externally.

Burning, unquenchable thirst for cold water. Everything tastes bitter.

May have a red, dry throat.

Gelsemium

High fever with weakness, dizziness and a tendency towards fainting.

Muscles feel sore. Back aches from the lower back to up over the head. Aching arms feel heavy and tired.

Chills run up and down the spine. Lots of perspiration.

Can have violent headaches.

Little perspiration and often not thirsty.

Can be associated with ptosis (a droopy upper eyelid)

Speech may be slurred.

Feel really cold, cannot get warm.

Feel better for sweating and for urination.

Thirstless.

Camphor

This is a useful remedy for fevers induced by medical drugs/ procedures rather than from an infection – where there are no clear symptoms other than the fever.

Arsenicum

Fever with complete exhaustion, anxiety and restlessness.

Dry, hot, burning fever alternating with chills and cold perspiration.

The hot phase can be so intense that it feels like the blood is burning in the veins.

Can have a hot face with a cold body or feel hot to touch but feel chilly inside.

Swollen, burning sore throat.

Can be drowsy and confused, even hallucinating.

Feels better for warmth and warm drinks.

Worse at night, especially after midnight.

Will be thirsty.

Pulsatilla

Useful where there are few symptoms other than the fever.

The heat of the fever is often on only one side of the body. Perspiration may also only be on one side or one part of the body.

Fever often hottest in the early afternoon and chills peak in the late afternoon.

Perspire a lot when they sleep and then wake up chilled.

Don’t want to be covered by bedclothes, but at other times they do (changeable). Don’t like external heat.

Often not thirsty.

Pulsatilla patients are often weepy and desire comforting. Moan and whine a lot during a fever.

Worse at night.

Can be caused by overeating.

Chamomilla

Great for fevers associated with teething.

Can have one-sided burning, so one cheek can be red and the other not.

The face and breath can be hot whilst the rest of the body is cold.

The child will be irritable and inconsolable. They may ask for something and then throw it back at you, or ask to be carried, but then want to be put straight back down.

Teething babies arching their back when being held often need this remedy.

Bryonia

Fever with painful body aches that are made worse for the smallest body movements. Patients want to lie still. Can feel like rheumatic pain.

Feel heat internally and externally but can feel hotter on one side than the other. Chills with external coldness and internal heat.

Often have a fast pulse.

Profuse perspiration can be sour.

Often very thirsty for water.

Feel better for cold surroundings

Often associated with a dry cough.

Rhus tox

Fevers from getting wet in the rain.

Dry burning fever alternating with chills. Can feel like there is hot water pumping through the veins.

Profuse sweating from everywhere except the head. Sweats from the slightest exertion or from being in bed. Chills often follow.

One side of the body can be hot while the other is cold.

Frequent urination usually accompanies the perspiration stages.

Painful body aches which make the patient restless – tossing from side to side or wanting to move around to try and find relief. Initial movements make the pain worse, but prolonged gentle movement can make it better.

Better for hot drinks.

Nux vomica

Dry, heat on one side of the body, alternating with chills which are more predominant than the heat. Sour, one-sided perspiration. Heat is felt externally, chills internally.

Fevers where the patient feels extremely cold and doesn’t want to move the blankets for fear of letting the cold in. Can be shivering with cold. Fingernails can turn blue.

Often associated with gastric symptoms.

There maybe a heaviness in the head. Limbs can also feel tired and heavy.

Usually, thirsty.

Worse in the morning.

Baptisia

Fevers where the heat is all over the body. Occasional chills, often at 11 a.m.

Can be used for very hot fevers – hyperpyrexia, on the way to the hospital.

Feel better for perspiration.

Have a sore throat and find it difficult to swallow.

Soreness all over the body.

Can be weak, drowsy and confused, even hallucinating.

Worse for heat, better for drinking liquids.

Merc sol

These fevers are often associated with gastric symptoms including nausea.

They can precede a cold.

Heat in single parts alternating with shuddering chills and perspiration.

Very profuse yellow perspiration, especially at night.

Lingering debility.

Worse for hot or cold. They feel chilled by fresh air, but too hot in a warm room.

Worse at night and from warmth of room/bed.



Recurrent Fevers

Some people have fevers that recur – e.g. after glandular fever or malaria. These cases should be referred to a professional homeopath as they are likely to have a deeper cause that needs a detailed case taking in order to find a more individualised remedy.



Final Tip!

Treating a child with a fever can be quite anxiety inducing for many parents. You may find it helpful to take a remedy like aconite yourself, to help keep you calm for your child, and to help you to think straight so you're better equipped to help them with homeopathy.


 


I hope you found this article useful. If you would like to sign up to receive more of my blogs, you can do so here.


Or, if you are interested in a homeopathic consultation you can book a free introductory call with me to explore things further.


If you know someone else that might benefit from this blog, you are very welcome to share it.


Thanks for reading!


Caroline











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