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MD Insights: Dr. Yost on Fevers

From an MD’s perspective, here’s what you need to know about one of our most common ailments:

sick person

What Is A Fever?

A fever, first and foremost, is not an illness. It is a symptom and a defense mechanism. When your body’s immune system detects the presence of a pathogen (usually a bacteria or virus), it releases chemicals called pyrogens. Pyrogens act on the part of the brain responsible for regulating body temperature, called the hypothalamus. They cause the hypothalamus to reset the body’s temperature to a higher level, resulting in a fever. 

In most cases, fever is a sign that your body is actively fighting an illness. Raising the body’s temperature helps fight off infections by stimulating the immune system and inhibiting the growth of certain microorganisms. However, persistent or excessively high fevers can indicate a more serious underlying condition.

Did you know that, in adults, a 100° temperature doesn’t always represent a fever? Our bodies naturally fluctuate between a set range of temperatures throughout the day, according to our circadian rhythm. The average adult’s temperature typically sits between 96.5°F and 100.3°F, however it is normal to have variations in this range. Generally, our temperature is lowest early morning and gradually rises through the day, peaking in the late afternoon. Our temperature can also fluctuate based on age, activity level, hormonal changes and other underlying medical conditions.

How to know you have a fever:

If your temperature is 100.4°F or higher, you can recognize it immediately as a fever. Generally, a high fever is recognized as above 103°F for adults and above 100.4°F for infants. If the initial reading is below 100.4°F, I recommend two things:
First, wait 3 hours and take your temperature again. Has it gone down? Has it risen?
Second, take account of your body. Are there other symptoms indicating you are sick? How severe are those symptoms? These questions will help guide your decision on next steps.

What Should You Do When You Have A Fever?

Now that you understand what a fever is, it’s crucial to determine the appropriate steps to take if you develop one. Here are the key questions to consider:

  • What is my temperature? Has it remained constant?
  • What other symptoms am I experiencing?
  • Do I need to seek medical attention?
Your answer to the first two will determine your answer to the third, so let’s begin with those. 

See a Medical Professional

If the fever is,
– Above 103°F
– Persistent for more than a few days
– Not improving despite home remedies or over-the-counter medications
– Accompanied by symptoms such as:
  • severe sore-throat
  • chest or abdominal pain
  • rash
  • difficulty breathing
You should seek the care of a medical professional. This can be at your local urgent care center, your primary care doctor, or in severe cases, your local emergency room. 

Your Choice

If the fever is,
– Below 103°F in adolescents and adults
– Unaccompanied by no other symptoms, or
– Accompanied by symptoms such as:
  • congestion
  • mild headache
  • mild fatigue
  • muscle aches
It’s usually ok to first try some simple home remedies, before investing your time and money into a medical visit.

Managing Fever Symptoms At Home

If your symptoms are mild and you’re considering your options, you’re in charge of deciding how to proceed! It’s always acceptable to seek medical help if you’re unsure. However, if you prefer to avoid the time and expense of a doctor’s visit, you can first try some simple home remedies to manage your symptoms:

  • Stay Hydrated and Rested: Keeping well-hydrated and resting are vital for helping your body combat the underlying cause of the fever.
  • Regulate Your Environment: Maintain a cool, comfortable temperature in your space and wear lightweight, breathable clothing to help your body regulate its temperature.
  • Use a Humidifier: If the air in your room is dry, using a humidifier can help soothe your respiratory passages and make breathing easier.
  • Over-the-Counter Medications: For managing a mild fever with mild symptoms, consider treating yourself with the appropriate dosage of over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

These remedies can be effective in managing your symptoms while you monitor whether your condition improves, remains stable, or worsens.

MD Insights

Dr. James Yost, Chief Medical Officer at CRH Healthcare

An Emory alum with 30 years of healthcare  experience and 17 years as a practicing physician, Dr. Yost cares deeply about the patient experience, inside and outside our centers. Starting this year, Dr. Yost will be answering our patients’ most common questions through MD Insights, with practical and trustworthy advice.