by Sinead Fine (MAHA)

Fever is a protective mechanism. Any foreign body entering the blood will be immediately recognized by the immune system. One way for the immune system to react is by causing fever. This prevents the foreign body from flourishing as they cannot survive the high temperature. Fever is the most common sign of illness in children. These days many parents are ill informed about fever or become very anxious when it occurs. We must remember that fever is a defense mechanism that helps your child fight infection. Bringing the temperature down by using anti-pyretics such as Paracetamol (Panadol, Tempra, Dymadon, Tylenol) acts against nature and will confuse the immune system. Often the fever is suppressed but the illness lasts longer. In the future the immune system may not be able to identify and react in the same way. Giving anti-pyretic reduces the anxiety of the parent but is not necessarily the best option for the child. Studies have been shown that Aspirin and Neurofen can be dangerous for little ones with fever and are not recommended.

So what is normal?

A normal temperature is 36.5 - 37 degrees C. A ‘normal’ temperature may be lower in the morning and higher in the evening. Children tend to have a higher ‘normal’ temperature in the summer. Once a temperature is over 37.5 C then it is considered a fever but some authorities claim it to be over 38 C before it’s called a fever.

How do I take a temperature?

For infant’s the ear or axilla (under the arm) temperatures are more accurate than the mouth. For school going children taking a temperature by the mouth is adequate. Nowadays every chemist has easy to use digital thermometers. An example of an easy way to take the temperature is with the Braun Ear Scan which simply has to touch the ear pinna for 4 seconds to get a good reading.

It is important to find out what is causing the fever!

Most common causes are viral (influenza, cold, tonsillitis) while other causes can be ear infections, urinary tract infections, measles, chicken pox, meningitis etc. Fever caused by viral infection generally comes on suddenly. Even teething can cause a fever! If you are unsure what is causing the fever it is wise to go to your doctor.

What are the warning signs?

If your child displays the following signs you must go to the Emergency Unit immediately.

Stiff neck, headache, pain, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, intolerance to light or a skin rash.

If the fever is 39 C or higher but displays none of the above symptoms and your child seems comfortable you can wait 6 hours before seeking medical attention.

But I thought fevers were dangerous?

Fevers can be dangerous but only at temperatures of 42 and above. If a temperature gets to this stage you must be on your way to the Emergency Unit.

What about febrile convulsions?

Febrile convulsions are not common but about 1 in 30 children may get them. They are most common between 6 months and 6 years.

The myth that they are dangerous and cause brain damage is wrong. However they can be frightening to watch. There is nothing you can do to make a convulsion stop. The most important thing is to stay calm when your child is having a convulsion (harder said than done of course!). While the child is having one make sure there is nothing hard around them such as chairs etc. Put soft cushions around them to protect them. Do not put your fingers in their mouth as they will not swallow their tongue. Time how long the convulsion lasts. Once it is over bring them to the doctor. If the convulsion is lasting longer than 5 minutes, or if your child does not wake up or looks very sick afterwards call an ambulance (000). You can also choose to drive if the hospital is near but make sure 2 adults are in the car.

So what do I do if my child has a fever?

Take your child’s temperature every half hour and keep a close eye on them for any new symptoms or worsening of present ones. Do not put them in a cold bath or shower as this may cause shock. Tepid sponging may also aggravate the condition in some children. Make sure your child is dressed well but not heavily. Keep them hydrated with water or diluted fruit juice. If they have an appetite chicken or vegetable broth can help. Do not worry if your child has no appetite, this is normal and will return when they feel better. The main priority is rest and quiet with lots of love and attention.

Can I use Homeopathic medicines for fever?

Definitely! Homeopathic medicines are excellent for helping the symptoms of fevers. A common remedy is called ABC 30c but others may be indicated such as Gelsemium, Baptisia or Ferr phos. The choice of medicine depends on the characteristic symptoms the child displays. I usually advise parents to only give if the fever is above 39 C or if it’s below but the child looks very unwell and is suffering. Even with homeopathic treatment its better to let your child’s defenses work first.  However I have found that lowering the fever with homeopathy does not necessarily mean that the infection is cured and may then need another remedy.

You can read more information on fever and febrile convulsions at the Royal Children’s Hospital Website at http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/factsheets

If a homeopath is not available and you have a first aid kit, you might be able to find the correct remedy at http://www.abchomeopathy.com/ by answering a number of questions.