Fever is a pretty clever protective mechanism for your immune system. We explain here when you should take action against it and how.
You’re hot and cold, your body feels like a huge heavy blanket is numbing everything, and a hand on your forehead confirms it: Hot! You probably have a fever.
Important: In the Corona times you should take what you carelessly dismissed as an annoying accompanying symptom of an infection and measure it, because it is one of the most common signs of a Covid 19 infection. If this is the case for you, we will keep our fingers crossed that there are no further symptoms and that you only have to cope with mild features of the disease!
What should you do if you have a fever?
But what to do if you have a fever? Should you fight this right now? Or is it maybe even better to endure the heat first? We’ll tell you how to measure your temperature and how to best act when you have a fever.
An expert will also explain to you why you get a fever in the first place, how it works, and when it is dangerous or even helpful. Finally, there are also 5 tips on how to get rid of the fever faster.
What is fever for anyway?
Typically your body temperature is around 36.8 degrees. “But that can fluctuate between 36 and 38 degrees during the day or during your period,” explains general practitioner Daniel Harbs from the Intensemed Hamburg specialist practice. As soon as the temperature rises above 38.5 degrees, it is called a fever. However, that also depends on where exactly you measure the temperature, so we will explain later how you can measure where and how. First, what is a fever good for?
“When you have a fever, the immune system goes into defense mode and sends out messenger substances that increase body temperature,” explains Harbs. This is the body’s protective mechanism to kill invaders such as bacteria or viruses. The warmer it is, the worse they can survive. “Fever is more of a symptom and not the cause of an illness,” said the doctor.
How do you recognize a fever?
When the hand is typically placed on the forehead, you can often tell whether the latter feels warmer than usual. In addition, the person concerned often feels exhausted and dull. The heat also makes you sweat more, and this loss of water can lead to a dry tongue.
The well-known chills, where you feel hot and cold at the same time, is a classic sign of a rising fever. By the way: “Fever changes during the day and can sometimes disappear in the morning and come back in the evening,” describes the general practitioner.
Where is the best place to measure a fever?
Fever or not: In the end, the clinical thermometer will provide you with certainty. However, you always have to evaluate the temperature in connection with the place where you measured it! Harbs therefore explains where you can measure and how:
- Rectal: The clinical thermometer in the buttocks is the most accurate, although perhaps not the most pleasant method. The best way to do this is to use a digital clinical thermometer. But this is the best place to get to the slightly warmer core body temperature. “With rectal measurements one speaks of a fever only from 39 degrees”, explains the doctor.
- In the ear and on the forehead: With a special infrared fever measuring device for the ears, you can measure the body temperature very well in the ear. However, this only works if the ear canals are free: “Too much ear wax can falsify the result,” warns Harbs. You should still do without Q-Tips, because they can be very damaging to the ear. Incidentally, infrared fever measuring devices can also determine exact values on the forehead without contact.
- Under the tongue or in the armpits: In these places, too, you get relatively close to the core body temperature, but not as precisely as with the other two methods. You need a conventional clinical thermometer for this. “The temperature at these points is about 0.5 degrees lower than in the rectal measurement, which is why we speak of fever at 38.5 degrees,” explains the doctor.
It is important that you do not mix the different methods, i.e. measure here and there. Not only because the thermometer under the tongue would rather not have been somewhere else beforehand, but also so that you can better compare the results in the long term.
How does one get a fever?
“The most common cause are pathogens that invade the body,” explains Harbs. But vaccinations can also lead to this in some cases, after all, the immune system is supposed to be challenged and trained by the vaccine. “This vaccination fever usually goes away quickly,” Harbs warned. In rare cases the psyche can even raise the body temperature, for example if stress upsets the body to such an extent that the immune system reacts with the fever messenger substances. But that doesn’t happen very often. This is how long you should avoid exercising after catching a cold.
Certain medications can also briefly trigger a fever when you start taking them. These include, for example, the so-called pyrogenic antibiotics. “Due to the further increase in temperature, one could mistakenly assume that the infection has worsened,” said the doctor. The active ingredient only works.
Another drug that can have these side effects is the thyroid drug levothyroxine, so if you feel feverish about a new drug, it can also be a side effect, so it’s best to check with your doctor’s office or pharmacy.
When does a fever become dangerous?
The higher body temperature is primarily useful when you have a pathogen in you. “I therefore recommend to my patients not to lower their fever too early and only from 39.5 degrees,” said the doctor. There are some risk factors that you should take action or ask a doctor:
- The fever exceeds 40 degrees: From 40 degrees, sweating and the high load on the circulatory system can cause problems. “From 41.5 degrees, even vital proteins can be destroyed,” warns Harbs. He advises seeing a doctor early if you have a fever in order to treat the infection as quickly as possible. But you should act no later than 40 degrees, if you feel very badly, that’s also a case for an emergency doctor!
- The fever lasts for several days: not only very high fevers, but also longer fevers can put a lot of strain on the circulation. It can also indicate that the body cannot cope with the pathogen on its own and that you need further treatment. “In the case of an infection, it is not uncommon to have a fever for several days,” warned Harbs. Nevertheless, you should clarify this with a doctor at some point, especially if you do not want to feel better even after several days.
- You are pregnant: you should be extra careful when you are pregnant! “Fever can harm the unborn child and trigger premature labor,” explains Harbs. He therefore recommends that pregnant women lower their fever at a temperature of 38.5 degrees.
- You have just had an operation: Fever can sometimes occur after operations. To clarify whether your immune system will recover on its own or whether the surgical wound is infected, you should clarify this with a doctor.
- You keep having fever attacks: If you keep struggling with a fever, it may be that a chronic illness such as unrecognized bronchitis is behind it.
- In children or the elderly: Both the immune system and the fluid balance are not as stable in children and in the elderly as in others. Therefore, the loss of water and the increased body temperature can lead to complications more quickly. These 6 foods boost your immune system.
How can you lower a fever?
Not every fever should be brought down immediately! But if it’s too high, taking too long, or the person has other risk factors, there are some readily available means to normalize body temperature and give your body some support. Harbs has these 5 tips:
1.Antipyretic drugs: “Medicines and active ingredients such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or ASA, i.e. aspirin (from € 13.58), can help against fever,” said the doctor. Always pay attention to the recommended dosage and possible side effects and interactions with medicines, but this way you can lower your fever very quickly and effectively.
2.Calf wrap: A classic home remedy is the calf wrap. To do this, you dip two thin cotton or linen towels in 16 to 20 degrees of cool water. Then you wring them out and put a cloth around each of your calves so that they are tight but not too tight. Place a second layer of dry cloth, for example a towel (no aluminum or cling film!) On top. Finally, wrap yourself under the covers and let the compress work for about 20 to 30 minutes. After 3 or 4 wraps, if you are uncomfortable with the cold or if you have cold hands or feet, you should interrupt the application. The best tips against cold hands and feet.
3.Drink a lot: If you have a fever, it is particularly important to drink a lot in order to counteract the loss of water through sweating! It should be at least 1 liter more per day than usual, so you should drink between 2.5 and 3.5 liters. This can also be, for example, special fever tea, which can intensify the “exudation” in the case of a slight fever.
4.Support your immune system: Harbs also recommends supporting the immune system during illness with an extra portion of vitamin C and zinc. You can of course do this with vitamin pills, but with fruit and vegetables you also get other and better usable trace elements.
5.Take a rest “The best medicine is to stay in bed and recover,” advises Harbs. No, home office in pajamas is also not allowed! Allow your body and mind a few days of absolute rest and relaxation, because mental strain and stress also weaken your immune system.
Fever is a good body defense mechanism. You should only lower it after a certain temperature or duration. Before that, however, you can support your body with enough fluids and rest so that the cause of the fever can be fought quickly.