A fever is a common, natural response that’s produced when there is an infection that the body is trying to ward off. Usually, it is more important to establish the underlying issue that is causing the body to create a fever in the first place than to treat the fever itself. Despite common misconceptions, not all fevers are dangerous and require immediate medical attention.
“Fevers help us fight illness by making our bodies an unfavorable environment for germs,” says Five Star Urgent Care Regional Medical Director Dr. LouAnne Giangreco. “The body starts trying to generate heat through shivering and wanting to get warm to try to reach a higher temperature. So when people develop a fever, they feel cold, not hot.”
A fever is defined as a temperature of above 100 degrees (F) orally or 100.4 degrees (F) in the rectum, in the ear, or on the forehead. Typically, as the fever rises, other more serious illnesses could be the cause of heightened temperatures. There are, however, some exceptions. For example, in the very young, the elderly, those with recent surgeries, and the immunosuppressed, lower fevers are often a concern.
In those who are healthy and not at the extremes of age, it is more important to consider the accompanying signs and symptoms. Fevers reaching 104 degrees (F) and higher in older children and adults should trigger evaluation even in the absence of other symptoms.
Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to reduce a fever when patients are also feeling uncomfortable from a headache, body aches or fatigue, but most importantly it is to establish the underlying cause of the fever itself.