Fever is always alarming to parents, but instead of being a bad sign, it shows that the body is fighting infection. If the child is limp or confused, has a stiff neck, difficulty breathing, and bad color; or if she has rashes, isn't responsive, and has a fever over 105 degrees, that could indicate a bacterial illness. With a viral illness, usually the fever is like a roller coaster. It goes up, then it comes back down. When it's down, the child could be running around playing; but when it goes back up, she will be lethargic and want to be held. A child's appearance and level of activity are more important to us than the degree of the fever, because the degree of the fever doesn't necessarily represent the severity of the illness.
If the fever is 102 degrees or more, or the child is uncomfortable, we recommend Tylenol, Motrin, or Advil. In children under six months of age, we always recommend Tylenol.
Depending on if there are other symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, or something else where they're losing body fluids, we worry about fluid intake. We always recommend that parents give fluids to children who are running fevers, if they can tolerate them.
—Carolyn McNeill, RN, Raleigh Pediatric Associates, Raleigh, North Carolina
From the point of view of Chinese medicine, fever can be caused by infection, constipation, blockage or obstruction, something bacterial or viral, or even allergies. Children also can get fevers from being overheated in hot weather.
We treat the person as well as the condition. Suggestions would be rest, cooling beverages—but no ice because it suppresses appetite—and, because a child's digestive system is not fully developed until age 7 or 8, reduced sugar (it overstimulates the organs and intensifies flulike symptoms.) Sugar is also one of the things that bacteria and viruses like to feed on, so instead of killing them, you're helping them.
There are a number of formulas, such as cinnamon-twig and forsythia-and-honeysuckle decoctions, which specifically treat heat conditions. Use cooling foods like watermelon, which is a Chinese remedy for summer heat.
If the child experiences gastrointestinal upset, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, try massaging in between the belly button and just below the sternum. This pressure point helps relieve nausea and helps defend qi ("chee")—the body's energy.
—Nicole P. Thiel, LAc, A Turning Point Center of Oriental Medicine and Integrative Therapy, Bethesda, Maryland
Because fever will essentially kill the virus or bacteria, from the naturopathic standpoint, it's best to monitor, not to suppress, a fever below 102 degrees. If you suppress it, the child won't be as sick, but she's going to be sick much longer. Most importantly, by not suppressing the fever, you're giving the immune system the chance to build up its defenses—the next time a fever comes to town, the child is not going to be as prone to it.
The main danger of a fever is dehydration, so make sure your child drinks. Water is fine, but the protein in milk burdens the digestive system. When you have high fever, your digestive system shuts down, so undigested food sits in your colon, builds up, and releases toxins. Diluting vegetable juice with water is the best way to add essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, sodium, potassium, and magnesium, lost in sweat. No fruit juice, though. Except for minerals and vitamins, you don't want to add anything such as sugar or protein that has to be digested.
If the fever rises above 102 degrees, you may either give her Children's Tylenol, which is not necessarily the most naturopathic approach, or a cold-water rub. Put your child on a table, rub her with cold water, then dry her off and wrap her in blankets—it usually promotes sweating, which will help release extra heat. If fever is sustained for more than three days, go to a hospital, because it may be a sign of a more serious infection.
—Eugene Bubis, ND, Partners in Health, Newton Highlands, Massachusetts