Fevers are scary. I remember vividly the first fever that my son had when he was about 2 years old. It went close to 40 °C and his whole being changed overnight from a lively, active toddler to a weak, hot, sick child, sleeping most of the day and eating nothing at all.
It is worrying seeing your very own child like that and you want to do everything to make him/her feel better, right?
In this article I will explain the fever, why it happens, what it does in the body, how to manage it at home and when to take action and when to leave it alone. I will also recommend a few herbs that you might have in your garden or in your pantry that are helpful in this situation.
A high fever almost always means infection and although a fever seems scary and negative, it is highly unlikely that it will cause any harm. The only time to be worried about a high fever being harmful is when it is not due to an infection. A heatstroke for example is dangerous. It happens when the body is exposed to high environmental temperatures with inadequate fluid intake and not brought forth by the body’s internal thermostat.
It is important to remember that fever is the body’s way to defend itself and is helping the body to fight off a foreign invader. Foreign invaders include viruses, bacteria, fungi, drugs, or other toxins. When our immune system encounters a harmful invader like bacteria or a virus, chemicals called pyrogens are released. Pyrogens (literally meaning “fire producing”) travel to the temperature regulating center in the brain, telling it to raise the body’s thermostat. Studies have shown that our immune cells are able to fight infections better and harder at elevated temperatures. Scientists have also found out that higher temperatures decrease the ability of pathogens to multiply, effectively slowing the rate of infection. 1
It is important to remember that fever is the body’s way to defend itself and is helping the body to fight off an infection.“
When dealing with fever at home and supporting someone in your family then you want to make the person comfortable, but not eliminate the fever. If a child is able to play there is no reason to do anything more than provide support with herbal teas, plenty of liquids and healthy bone broths. Fevers over 39 °C tend to make us feel miserable and we are unlikely to do our daily activities. The best thing to do is rest and sleep as much as your body needs. My children have 2-6 naps during the day when they are bed ridden with fever. When they wake up I make sure to offer liquids, herbal teas and whatever they ask for. I trust their appetite and make sure to defrost a chicken to make a chicken soup with some finely diced carrots, some onions and celery so I have it on hand when they feel hungry. Some cut up fruit are also great to snack on. Avoid sugary treats, dairy products and fatty foods. Most of the time the food intake is very small if anything and that is totally normal and expected. The body does all that it takes to get rid of the infection, a full stomach would be counterproductive and does not support the immune response.
Call Healthline (0800 611 116 in New Zealand) or your GP when:
- you suspect the cause of the fever is a COVID-19 infection.
- an otherwise healthy child or adult has a fever over 39.5 °C.
- a fever has lasted longer than 3 days.
- a fever is above 40 °C.
- a fever is 38.5 °C or higher in someone over the age of 65.
- fever in people that are immune-compromised because of disease or medications, like people undergoing cancer treatment, have autoimmune disease or a chronic disease or are pregnant.
- a baby under 3 months has a temperature of 38 °C.
- a fever is accompanied by a stiff neck, extreme lack of energy, difficulty breathing, or fast, laboured, or noisy breathing and worsening headache.
It is best to dress lightly and comfortably, use a blanket when cold and remove it when feeling hot. Adults and children should make sure to drink plenty of fluids. Soups and bone broths provide nourishment as well as fluids. The addition of thyme, sage and rosemary with their antibacterial and antimicrobial actions are great to add to a soup or can be brewed separately into a herbal tea. Babies should be encouraged to nurse frequently. Formula-fed babies should be offered the bottle on regular schedule with water or herbal tea offered in between feedings.
I recommend to stay away from fever reducing (antipyretic) and pain relieving medications (like pamol, paracetamol etc.) at least in the first 24-48 hours and when the fever is below 39 °C. For high fevers above 39.5 °C and when the child is very uncomfortable, then a small dose may be beneficial to increase comfort and to help them sleep. When a child is pain free and the fever gets reduced by a drug, they are more likely to run around and do their usual activities, while the body is still fighting a viral infection and has a hard time doing so without adequate rest. This is actually tough on the body and it generally takes way longer for the child to deal with the infection. Do not send a child to school or preschool with the help of antipyretic medication. You are doing the teachers and the child no favour. When you let the body do the healing and deal with the infection by having an increased temperature, the infection is generally gone much faster, within 1-3 days. When my children have a fever I am actually glad as I know that their body is working hard, they will sleep lots and are healthy in no time, often after just one night when they had a foot soak (see below) before bedtime. The immune system of children is still developing and if we do not give it a chance to do the healing, how can they have a resilient, adaptable immune system later in life?
My role as mother is to support them, monitor and note down the temperature (a thermometer is a must here), read stories, make herbal teas and elderberry syrup, prepare a foot soak before bedtime, offer cut up fruit and defrost a chicken for a healthy broth when they feel better.
To support the immune system to fight colds, flus and viral infections we recommend for children KoruKai Elderberry Syrup, Chest Ease (with runny nose and coughing) and for adults Health Elixir, packed with antimicrobial, antiviral and antiseptic herbs to support your body through bacterial and viral infections.
Below some herbs that are helpful for a herbal tea during times of fever and infections.
Chamomile flowers (matricaria recutita) are relaxant, carminative and anti-inflammatory. They are an excellent choice for children. The tea made from German chamomile flowers relieves irritability, eases tension and helps children sleep. It is valuable for pain, bloating and colic.
Elder flowers (sambucus nigra) make a great infusion in combination with yarrow.
Elder berries (sambucus nigra) are rich in vitamin C, immune enhancing and anti-viral. They have been used as a winter remedy for centuries. They are best taken in form or a syrup with the addition of honey.
Yarrow (achillea millefolium) stimulates sweating and is therefore valuable to reduce fever.
Lemon Balm (melissa officinalis) is an antiviral herb. It is antispasmodic and increases sweating.
Peppermint (mentha x piperita) relieves muscle spasm and also increases sweating. Peppermint is a cooling herb.
Plantain (plantago lanceolata) Nature’s own antibiotic, traditionally used to treat colds, coughs, fevers and sinusitis.
HOW TO USE: To make a herbal tea use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for 1 cup of tea. Use 2 tsp when using fresh plant material. Steep for 5-10 minutes and then strain. You can add 1 tsp maple syrup for a child under the age of 12 months or honey for anyone older.
Dosage: Babies 3-6 months: 2 teaspoons every hour or two (best for babies are chamomile, lemon balm and elder flowers)
Babies 6-12 months: 1-2 tablespoons every hour or two
Children and adults should drink as much as they desire.
A regular routine when a child has fever in our house is a foot soak before bedtime. We brew herbs from the garden (chamomile, yarrow, thyme, plantain, rosemary) and dilute that with enough water to make a nice and hot foot bath to be comfortable for the child.
The immune system of children is still developing and if we do not give it a chance to do the healing, how can they have a resilient, adaptable immune system later in life?”
1 Dr. Tieraona Low Dog: “Healthy at Home – Get Well and Stay Well Without Prescriptions” 2014